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the vampire suicides part two

Anita teams up with her men to solve her most recent case involving a vampire perpetrator
Rated R
Disclaimer:  No monetary profit will be made from this fanfiction now or ever.  Characters and situations from the Anitaverse are property of author Laurell K. Hamilton.



CHAPTER TEN~ Questions and Answers



As promised, I phoned Asher from the jeep and told him about the police coming. Asher, in turn, sarcastically informed me that he already knew that because the police had arrived ten minutes ago and were waiting for Jean-Claude and me in the general manager’s office at the Circus of the Damned. I told him we were on our way and hung up. Cripes, now I had Asher mad at me too.

The silence inside the jeep after that was deafening. Jean-Claude didn’t want to talk about what he was going to tell Zerbrowski and was sitting as far away from me as the confines of the backseat would allow. Damian and Jason kept exchanging worried looks with each other, but didn’t say anything out loud.

When we pulled into the parking lot behind the main office building for the Circus, Asher came out the back way to meet us, looking more than a little ticked off.

“Did you know the police were coming to see you tonight?” Asher asked Jean-Claude, dispensing with the pleasantries of greeting us to get right to the point. “They were under the impression they had an appointment. I didn’t know what to tell them.”

Jean-Claude nodded placatingly. “Do not blame me for this, mon ami,” he began. “I was only made aware of the fact an hour or so ago. I’m sorry we did not get here sooner.”

Asher pointed in the general direction of the office. “They’re waiting for you inside. What are you going to tell them?”

“I will tell them what they want to know,” Jean-Claude replied, lowering his voice an octave. “What would you like me to tell them?”

Sighing heavily, I stepped around the two arguing vampires and made my way into the general manager’s office to greet Zerbrowski and let him know Jean-Claude was right behind me. I stepped through the door however and stopped dead in my tracks. There was Dolph Storr, sitting in a chair that looked far too short and way too small for him. Zerbrowski was lounging on the large sectional sofa against the wall opposite him. I could tell right away Dolph wasn’t in the best of moods.

He got to his feet when he saw me, more from anticipation than manners, I’m sure.

“Anita, what a surprise,” he said tauntingly. “And here I thought we’d be talking to the monsters.”

“Dolph,” I greeted flatly. “Long time no see. Have you been on vacation?” There. I could poke at him through the bars too.

Zerbrowski wisely intervened. “We just want to ask Jean-Claude a few questions then we’ll be on our way, okay?”

I nodded. “Fine with me. We’re all on the same side.”

“Then why are you standing over there?” Dolph snidely asked.

I sneered at him. “Is this the way it’s going to be all night?”

Dolph just shrugged. “You tell me.”

I closed my eyes and took a deep steadying breath. If poor Asher had been subjected to remarks like these for the past half hour it was no wonder he was in a foul mood.

“Gentlemen, my apologies for keeping you waiting,” Jean-Claude rang out, gliding into the room and unconsciously riding to my rescue. Or maybe Dolph’s rescue, it was hard to tell. “Please,” he paused and motioned to the black sectional that dominated the office, “make yourselves comfortable.”

Jean-Claude stepped over to me and I suddenly felt his hand on the small of my back. His voice suddenly filled my head. Please let me do the talking, ma petite.

I glanced over at him but didn’t say anything in reply. I wasn’t promising anything at this point. Jean-Claude seemed to sense this and sighed softly, wearily. He guided me to the other end of the sofa and motioned for me to sit down. I more or less flopped onto it as Jean-Claude slid onto the cushion beside me. Asher came and stood beside us, leaning against the wall. Jason and Damian took up twin positions at the office door. Dolph stayed standing in front of his chair. He crossed his arms over his massive chest and glowered down at me from above.

Just to spite him, I scooted closer to Jean-Claude, draping my arm around his shoulders, and played with a lock of his hair. The faked display of affection made Jean-Claude more uneasy than it did Dolph however. He glanced over at me with a quick sideways sweep of his eyes, and then fixed them determinedly on Zerbrowski.

“What can I do for you this evening, Sergeant?” he gently prodded. “I am at your disposal.”

Looking up at Jean-Claude, Zerbrowski flipped open a small steno pad and pulled a blue Bic pen from his shirt pocket. “Let me just run a few things by you and maybe you’ll think of something you could tell us that may help in this investigation, is that all right?”

Jean-Claude leaned back into the sofa cushions, raising one arm to prop his head in his hand and effectively stop me from toying with his hair. He was a master of body language and this particular pose conveyed a certain air of nonchalance tinged with a little authoritative arrogance, but also receptivity.

“I will do what I can,” he answered.

Zerbrowski quickly reviewed his notes, and then touched his pen to the pad. “Can you tell us what you know about the vampire that’s killing these women?”

Jean-Claude raised his chin slightly. “I know nothing for certain. Like you, I am trying to piece together clues as to his identity. Until then, I merely suspect.”

“Well, since you want to split hairs, who do you suspect then?” This from Dolph.

Lowering his eyes, Jean-Claude brushed at some non-existent lint on his thigh. “There is no one specifically I would condemn just yet. I was able to obtain a physical description of the vampire from one of my employees however. Perhaps you would find that helpful, but in truth, the description alone does not narrow the field of choices.”

I stared at Jean-Claude in surprise. One of the last things I expected him to do was tell them about Damian. I spared a glance at Damian and he looked even more surprised than I was. But then I understood what Jean-Claude was doing and unfortunately for me, Zerbrowski and Dolph took the bait.

“We’d like to talk to this employee, if you could give us his name and a location where we could find him,” Zerbrowski said, writing something down in his little pad and sitting forward with undisclosed enthusiasm.

Jean-Claude raised his eyes and fixed them on my vampire standing across the room. “Damian, come here please. These gentlemen would like to speak to you.”

I glared at Jean-Claude as Damian was asked by Zerbrowski to describe Aristide. I knew what was coming next and decided if I was going to have any kind of chance to take out the killer at Guilty Pleasures tonight, then I was going to have to say something.

Zerbrowski stopped writing. “Would you be willing to come down to the station with us and give this description to a composite artist? If we could put a face on this vampire, it’d be a tremendous help.”

Like the good little vampire servant he was, Damian looked over at me, waiting for my consent before agreeing to anything. Instead of giving it to him, I jumped to my feet.

“No, I don’t think that’s a good idea,” I said, grasping at straws. “Not tonight anyway. Those composites take hours and it would be too risky keeping him at the police station all night. He may not make it back to his coffin before dawn if you do that.”

“If he gets in a pinch, we could always put him in a cell,” Dolph offered facetiously. “He’ll be fine in the basement for the day.”

I licked my lips. “He’s offering to help you and you’re joking about locking him up for the day?” I turned to Zerbrowski for some kind of help. “Does that make sense to you?”

“Anita, it’s only,” here Zerbrowski paused to consult his watch, “ten forty-five. It’ll only take a couple of hours at the most. He’ll be back safe and sound with nighttime to spare.”

I turned and glared at Jean-Claude. Sure. He knew exactly what he was doing. The meeting with Death Fantasy For One was supposed to be after midnight. Without Damian, I wouldn’t have anyone with me who could positively identify him as the killer. If I went tonight alone, I’d have to let this vampire practically bleed me to death before I could legally move on him.

You bastard, I growled at him in my mind. It doesn’t matter. I’m still going.

Jean-Claude merely looked back at me. He didn’t look smug, or angry, or upset. He just looked.

I faced Zerbrowski. “You’re right. He’ll be fine. I don’t know what I was thinking.” I nodded at Damian. “Go with them.”

Damian glanced from me to Jean-Claude. The slightest of nods from him seemed to reassure Damian enough to relax some. They had clearly spoken volumes to each other in that one exchanged look.

“I’d be happy to help,” Damian said quietly, clasping his hands together and bowing his head in a rather subservient pose.

“When did you see this vampire?” Zerbrowski continued, writing painstaking notes. “And what made you suspicious about him?”

Damian frowned. “Nothing. I saw him last night around ten-thirty in the alley behind Danse Macabre. He was with a girl. I didn’t think anything of it until that same girl turned up dead. I told Jean-Claude about it, but he couldn’t be certain who it was I saw.”

Zerbrowski grimaced. “Too bad he can’t read your mind. That’s why I think this composite will help. A description is one thing, an actual image is another.”

Dolph peered at me. “How long would it have taken him to kill her?”

At first I didn’t hear him. My mind was still mulling over what Zerbrowski had said to Damian about Jean-Claude not being able to read his mind. Technically, Jean-Claude was not Damian’s master, I was. But I knew Jean-Claude had the ability to reach into practically any mind: be it human, shapeshifter, or vampire. I turned to look at him again and suddenly knew Damian wasn’t the only one who could positively identify the killer.

“Anita? Anita?”

I whirled around. “What?”

“How long?” Dolph repeated. “How long does it normally take for a vampire to kill someone?”

Pushing aside my anger, I tried to do the mathematical calculations in my head. “There was evidence of sexual activity before her death which could have prolonged the time he was with her. Damian said around ten-thirty and her body was found around one-thirty. It most likely was that vampire, if that’s what you’re asking.”

Zerbrowski focused on Jean-Claude again. “I was recently given the impression you were having Blake here guarded. Is there some specific reason for that? You said last night the Morris murder really wasn’t anything for you to be overly concerned about. Do you still believe that?”

Jean-Claude shifted slightly and crossed his legs. “But I am concerned, Sergeant. I’m concerned in the sense that one of my vampires has apparently gone insane and is murdering innocent women on some baseless, unfathomable spree.”

Zerbrowski squinted back at him. “But then why order protection for Blake? Is she in some kind of danger that you know of?”

With a slight shake of his head, Jean-Claude appeared to dismiss the notion. “Nothing I am specifically aware of, but without knowing for certain, I thought having one of my people look after her would certainly cause no harm. It is just a precaution on my part. I do what I can to protect my own.”

Dolph pointed at Asher. “Why didn’t you order him guarded?”

I looked up at Asher. He looked back at me and shrugged as if to say I didn‘t tell him anything. I think he was wondering how Dolph knew he was one of Jean-Claude’s own as well, but I knew Dolph hadn’t meant it that way.

Jean-Claude had no qualms about letting Dolph know about Asher, however. He smiled easily and peered affectionately up at the golden-haired vampire who shared our bed on occasion.

“Mon Asher is not as easy to kill. He rarely ventures out in public places and when he does, he is normally accompanied by me or ma petite. Add my own bodyguards to the mix and he typically becomes my most guarded possession. Ma petite, on the other hand, casually flits from one lethal situation to another without batting her beautiful eyes. Attribute it to an age old sense of chivalry, if you will, but I still…worry about her.”

The last few words he spoke were whispery and soft. I gaped back at him, fully aware of what he was really talking about.

“I don’t care,” I told him. “I’m not your property. I’m not your responsibility. You don‘t have to look out for me.”

Zerbrowski chuckled. “It’s your own fault, Anita. That’s what you get for dating a guy from the seventeenth century.”

“Yeah, you lay down with dogs, you wake up with fleas,” Dolph added with a sneer. “Or in this case an even bigger parasite.”

I snapped around to face him, pointing my finger at him in a barely contained fury. “You can cut the crap, Dolph! I already know how you feel about me banging vampires, but let me tell me you something--I don’t give a shit anymore about what you think, okay?”

I heard Jean-Claude sigh behind me. “Ma petite, please? This is hardly the time or the place to go into such things.”

I shook my head. “No, this is the perfect time! ‘Cause I’ve had it up to here with this kind of narrow-minded bullshit. This is my life and I’ll do what I damned well--”

Asher and Damian were suddenly at my side. Damian boldly stepped in between me and Dolph and placed both of his hands on either side of my face forcing me to look into his eyes. Behind me, Asher encircled my chest with his arm and drew my back against him.

“Anita,” Damian said tenderly. “It’s all right.” He leaned his face forward until our foreheads touched. “Don’t let him get to you. That’s what he’s trying to do and you’re letting him.”

Asher rubbed my arm and bent over my shoulder to whisper in my ear. “He’s just jealous because we’re the ones banging you.”

I had to smile at that. Taking a deep breath, I reached up and wrapped my arms around Damian’s neck. I closed my eyes and drew his power into me, absorbing his calming influence like the warmth from the sun.

“I’m okay,” I whispered to the vampires surrounding me. “I won’t kill him. I promise.”

Asher laughed lightly, sending gentle vibrations skittering through my body. I twisted around and reached up to grasp his jaw. I planted one on him just for the hell of it. A second later I wished I hadn’t however. As if recognizing him, the ardeur’s presence suddenly simmered to life in my blood, making me pull back from Asher as though my lips had been seared.

I heard Zerbrowski trying to tactfully clear his throat. “Look, Blake--”

I pulled further away from Asher and Damian, and turned around to face him. “Let’s just forget about it, okay? Let’s just wrap things up here. I’ve got places to go, people to meet.” I could feel the weight of Jean-Claude’s gaze bearing down on me, but I knew if I looked back at him, the ardeur would most likely consume me. I struggled with it for a moment, and then concentrated entirely on Zerbrowski. Maybe if we got things back on track…

“What about Perry’s prostitution lead?” I asked him in a slightly wavering voice. “Have you turned up anything with that?”

Zerbrowski frowned. “There’s got to be over a hundred vampire prostitutes in this city and the surrounding area. It’s taking us awhile to sift through our list.”

Dolph shuffled his feet like a little kid, drawing my attention to him. He looked extremely uncomfortable now, as if he didn’t have a friend in the room. Imagine that. He didn’t look at me however. He fixed his attention on Jean-Claude. I think he wanted to get things back on track too.

“What have you done to try to find this vampire? We’ve already got three bodies, maybe more. We need a name.”

“I’ll get you a name,” Jean-Claude told him. “I’ll get you his head on a crystal platter. It is only a matter of time, gentlemen.”

Zerbrowski flipped his notebook closed and hauled himself to his feet. “Do you have any ideas on why this vampire is killing these women?” he asked Jean-Claude.

For a moment, Jean-Claude remained silent. Then he got to his feet and stepped up behind me. He didn’t touch me, but he was so close to me, I could practically feel the line of his body pressing against mine. I closed my eyes and tried to breathe.

“Perhaps he is the sort of vampire who pines for the days of old when blood was routinely taken through death. There are some who seem to miss the thrill of the hunt--a time when we monsters were not quite so civilized. Some cling to that reclusive mystery which once surrounded my kind for an assured sense of security. It is one theory anyway. Another is, perhaps, he truly pities these women and is providing them with a service no one else would, or could. Except a vampire.”

Zerbrowski looked at Dolph. Apparently, they had finished, but neither one looked particularly pleased. Zerbrowski glanced at me, and then raised his eyes to Jean-Claude again.

“I want you to know, the press has already gotten wind of this,” he said. “They’re plastering these killings all over the front pages. It won’t be much longer before the humans in this city start clamoring for more than one vampire head. All your careful mediating is headed right down the proverbial drain. I want your word, Jean-Claude. I want you to swear to me, you’re doing everything you can to find this guy.”

“If you can’t control your vampires,” Dolph put in, “we’ll bring someone up here who can.” He couldn’t resist a snide look at me. It was hard to believe at one time I considered him my friend.

I heard Jean-Claude sigh behind me. “You have my word, Monsieurs.” His voice poured out of him like rich, thick syrup. His trick might have worked on Zerbrowski and Dolph, but it didn’t affect me, and I was pissed. Now they’d really gone too far.

“You can’t remove Jean-Claude from power,” I told them, stabbing my finger into Zerbrowski’s chest. “If you even try something like that, you’ll find yourselves in way over your heads.”

Zerbrowski looked back at me somewhat startled as if he’d lost track of what we were talking about awhile back. Dolph shook his head and gestured at me.

“I wasn’t talking about a coup d’etat, Anita,” he rumbled. “He can keep his paper throne for the time being. No, I was referring to enforcement--having someone around who can keep the monsters in line. That used to be you.”

Just then, I felt Damian’s hand slip into mine. I tried to inconspicuously free it, afraid it would only spark the ardeur again, but instead, his cool grasp helped me tamp it down further. My head felt clearer and the tension in my body slowly ebbed away.

“It still is me, Dolph,” I stated, growing wearily of sparring with him tonight.

Dolph shook his head. “You’ve been compromised. You used to think the same way that I do about these things, don’t try to deny it.”

I squeezed Damian’s hand and took a deep breath. “Look, you boys get me a signed court order of execution and I’ll be more than happy to take out this vampire for you. I’m still a licensed, practicing vampire executioner and I’m still damned good at what I do. I’ve got more recorded vampire kills than any other executioner registered in the United States. We won’t even get into the un-recorded kills. So don‘t give me any of this what-have-you-done-for-me-lately bullshit. I‘ve done plenty already and I have the scars to prove it.” I paused and jerked my thumb at Jean-Claude who was still standing behind me. “If he can’t control his vampires, I can.”

Stuffing his hands into his pockets, Zerbrowski peered over my shoulder at Jean-Claude. “You knew this about her when you started sleeping with her, right?” he teased.

I heard, and felt, Jean-Claude laugh lightly. “Sergeant, when she starts talking like that, it makes my heart truly beat.”

He drew up beside me and put his arm across my back, resting his hand on my waist in what I believed to be a rather possessive gesture. I wasn’t sure if he was actually feeling the need to claim me now or if his sudden display of affection was just for show. I’m sure he had sensed the ardeur subside, if he feeling confident enough to touch me, but there was still one thing that hadn’t subsided in me yet, and that was my anger. I moved, pulling away from him, shifting closer to Damian, pointedly ignoring Jean-Claude.

“Let me know when you get back from the police station, all right?” I told my vampire. “I want to hear how it went.”

Damian nodded, his brilliant green eyes sweeping from mine to Jean-Claude’s and then back again. “I’ll come find you.”

“Jason,” Jean-Claude summoned. “Will you be so kind as to escort Damian and our esteemed guests to their vehicles?” He smiled easily at Zerbrowski. “As merely a courtesy,” he assured him.

I waited patiently until I was certain Dolph and Zerbrowski were well out of earshot. Then I turned and faced Jean-Claude.

“That’s it!” I seethed. “It’s settled. I’m going to Guilty Pleasures tonight to meet with Death Fantasy For One. If you thought for one minute that I‘d change my mind if I had to go alone, you‘re wrong.”





CHAPTER ELEVEN~ The Lovers’ Spat



Asher settled his elegant frame into the corner of the sectional sofa and looked up at me questioningly; then he looked over at Jean-Claude. I knew Asher didn’t have a clue as to what I was talking about, but right now, I didn’t have time to explain it all to him.

On the other hand, Jean-Claude knew exactly what I was talking about. His face was perfectly void of any expression, but I noticed his eyes narrowed a teeny, tiny bit.

“Ma petite, you’ve no need to prove anything to anyone. Their insinuations were spawned from frustration. Neither you, nor I, can wholly blame them, but to put yourself at such risk simply to smooth out the creases in your relationships with those men seems more than a little extreme.”

“Pride goeth before a fall, ma cherie,” Asher added from the couch.

I glanced over at him. “You stay out of this. You don’t even know what this is about.”

Asher gestured at Jean-Claude. “He said you are set on proving something you’ve no need to prove. What else do I need to know?”

I sighed. I wasn’t about to argue with him too. “Fine, whatever.” I turned back to face Jean-Claude. “This isn’t about proving anything to anybody. This is about doing what is right, and reasonable. This is about stopping Aristide from killing again. That‘s what this is about.”

For a long while, Jean-Claude said nothing. He grew so still, I could tell he wasn’t even breathing. It was as if the supernatural life inside him had faded and left just an empty shell of a man standing in front of me. It was unnerving to say the least.

“Well? Aren’t you going to say something?” I prodded. “Look, I know you purposefully made Damian go with Zerbrowski tonight so he wouldn’t be able to go with me. And I know you looked into Damian‘s mind and are now fully aware of who the killer is. I know you‘re keeping things from me….I‘ve had enough. I‘m not going to argue with you about this anymore.”

Jean-Claude shifted his weight to one leg, abruptly coming back to life, startling me slightly. “Ma petite, arguing with you is pointless.”

I felt a jolt of triumph shoot through me at his words. He clearly knew better than to cross me once I had my mind made up about something, but he’d been so adamant about me not going before, it seemed as if he’d given into me too easily this time. Maybe my RPIT colleagues had something to do with it. He’d seen first hand now how strained things were between us.

“So, just like that, you’re letting me go?” I had to be sure.

Much to my surprise, Jean-Claude shook his head. “Non, ma petite. You misunderstood me. I meant there is no point in arguing because you cannot go and that is final.”

I threw up my hands. I should have known it wasn‘t going to be that easy. “Is that so? Well, I guess I‘ll just hang around here for tonight and let Aristide rape and bleed another woman to death even though you and I both know I can stop him.”

Sighing, Jean-Claude reached out and tentatively placed his hands on my shoulders. “Ma petite, listen to me--”

Apparently now he was going to try reasoning with me. Wary of the ardeur’s return, I shrugged him off. I didn’t mean to do it quite as callously as I did, but my apparent over-reaction to his rather innocent touch seemed to startle him, and he stopped talking in mid-sentence. I tried softening my voice to lessen the blow. “I’ve been listening, Jean-Claude but you haven’t been saying anything. Maybe if you give me a real reason not to go tonight, I’ll consider staying away. But until you do, I’m going…and that’s final.”

Jean-Claude turned his back on me and walked over towards the desk. “No,” he said softly, but with enough authority in his tone to let me know he meant business.

That did it. I shook my head. “Goddamn it, Jean-Claude. I meant it when I said I’m not your property. Don’t pull this chauvinistic crap on me!”

Jean-Claude turned on his heel to face me. “And I meant what I said about protecting my own!” he snapped back. He unexpectedly seized the back of the desk chair and banged it soundly on the floor, effectively startling me into a contrite silence. His anger was short-lived however and in moments, his eyes took on a dispirited sheen. “When I say you are my own, I do not speak of you in the same context as I would speak of this chair. You are in the same context as my heart, ma petite. As my friend, my lover. As my life.”

The poignancy of his words pricked momentarily at my resolve. I wanted to go to him and take him in my arms and tell him everything would be all right, but knew, deep down inside, that I simply could not give into him on this. I was still too baffled by his motives to leave well enough alone.

Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Asher scowling at me. “Can’t you simply trust in his instinct and abide by his wishes for once?” he spoke up. “Doesn’t his concern for you mean anything?”

I whirled around to fully face Asher, to tell him to stay out of this, when something suddenly occurred to me.

“You know why he doesn’t want me to kill this vampire, don’t you?”

Jean-Claude turned and looked at him. Asher’s icy blue eyes flicked to Jean-Claude, then back to me. He sighed and leaned back against the sofa cushions and stretched out his long legs. “Yes,” he admitted. “I am aware of his reasons just as I am aware that should he relay them to you, they would scarcely make a difference in your decision making. He truly has so little power over you, that it is better for him to keep his reasons to himself and let you imagine something much more significant.”

I raised my brow. “And you agree with him?”

“Yes I do because in most respects, I feel the same regarding this…situation.”

“A situation. Well, I guess you could call it that.”

Asher looked thoughtful for a moment. Then he sat forward and gestured at Jean-Claude. “What would he have to do to keep you from hunting this vampire?”

I glanced at Jean-Claude. He was leaning forward slightly against the back of the desk on his hand. His head was down as if he were looking at something on the floor, which I knew he wasn’t. I think he just didn’t want to look me in the eye. I wondered briefly if I had hurt him by not responding to him the way I had initially wanted to.

I faced Asher again, crossed my arms over my chest and shrugged. “I don’t know.”

Asher frowned. “Yes you do.”

Trying not to be distracted by Jean-Claude’s sullen silence, I walked over to the sofa and peered down at the tall vampire sitting there. Asher was giving me clues--feeding them to me bit by bit though. All I needed to do was ask the right questions.

“Aristide is the one killing these women,” I stated knowingly, “and because you two seem to have some kind of past with him, you don’t want him executed, do you? You’re not going so far as to hamper the efforts to find him, but you’re not exactly aiding in his capture, are you?”

Flashing a toothy smile, Asher settled back against the sofa cushions. “Au contraire, ma cherie. We both very much want him dead. We are doing as much as we can to capture him with the exception of enlisting your services. I personally would like to see him crucified to the side of a building, but that’s just me.”

The door to the office opened and Jason slipped inside. He took one look at me and frowned deeply. “With Damian gone, I think we should go back to the original plan of having me meet with Death Fantasy For One tonight. It only makes sense. You can’t go after him alone.”

“I can and I will.” I waved off Jason’s incredulous expression. “Are you all forgetting that I’ve been up against a lot worse than this? I think I can hold my own against one single vampire.”

“Anita, you said it yourself, it won’t work,” Jason countered. “You can’t just walk up to him and kill him. You need proof that he’s the right one.”

I jerked my thumb at Jean-Claude. “I have all the proof I need right there!”

Jason looked nonplussed for a minute, and then put his hands on his hips defiantly. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

I laughed humorlessly. “Ask your master.” I’d had enough. I headed for the door but Jean-Claude was suddenly right in front of me. He had moved so fast I hadn’t seen him.

“You never answered Asher’s question, ma petite,” he said simply.

I gazed deeply into his eyes, searching for something I didn’t know where else to look in order to find. I couldn’t stay angry at him anymore though. Especially considering he was wearing his heart on his sleeve tonight. Sighing, I reached up and laid my hand on his face.

He stared back at me and I watched his long, thick lashes sweep slowly over those beautiful, dark blue orbs in complete enchantment. The phrase ‘lost in his eyes’ came to mind and struck me as being entirely plausible right about now. The room and everyone around us just didn’t exist anymore. Nothing seemed as important to me as looking at him. The urge to kiss him became overwhelming.

Leaning forward, I raised my face to his and parted my lips beckoningly. His mouth fell over mine as if he simply couldn’t help but kiss me. His arms encircled my back, drawing me tightly against his body, and he moaned softly, sounding almost as if he were in pain.

I wrapped my arms around his neck and kissed him hungrily, shifting in his embrace to be touching as much of him as I possibly could at once. Not surprisingly, my ardeur roared to life. Surprisingly, it cooled right back down. I pulled away from Jean-Claude and looked at him curiously.

“I cannot hold it at bay much longer, ma petite,” he told me in a whispery voice. “If you continue to deny it, it will only grow more insistant with each passing minute.”

Of course. He must have been keeping it under control for me all night long. I wondered briefly why he hadn’t released it after Zerbrowski and Dolph left, but then when I thought about it, we hadn’t been on the best of terms for a good portion of the night. I’m sure I had given Jean-Claude the impression I didn’t even want him to touch me, let alone let him feed the ardeur for me.

I cleared my throat and tried to think through my passion-mired brain. “Below,” I managed. “Your bedroom is right below us.”

Jean-Claude’s gaze sweep around the room and he smiled slightly. “Are you suggesting we go somewhere more private?”

I nodded. I could feel the heat slowly saturating my body. “Yes and right now. Please.” I turned and looked apologetically at Asher and Jason.

“Oh, you don’t have to leave on our account,” Jason said a little too eagerly.

I frowned at him, still clutching Jean-Claude’s neck in near desperation. He was either getting uncomfortable or he was feeling romantic because all of a sudden, he bent a little farther towards me, slipped his arm under my thighs, and lifted me up against his chest as if to carry me off. I took advantage of my new proximity to his face and started gnawing on the side of his neck. I heard the breath catch in his throat and felt a small shiver ripple through him.

“I’ll get the door,” Asher said, rising. I expected him to go to the office door, but Jean-Claude turned away from it. Asher moved to a section of paneling just behind the desk. He touched it and it swung inwards. As Jean-Claude moved past him with me into the dimly-lit halls beyond, Asher leaned towards him and whispered in his ear. “Call me if you need me.”

It was a tempting proposition, but I couldn’t afford the luxury of whiling the night away between both of them. As it was, Jean-Claude may not know it yet, but he was going to have to make this fast. We only had an hour before midnight. It would be enough time. It would have to be. I still had every intention of going to Guilty Pleasures tonight to meet Death Fantasy For One.





CHAPTER TWELVE~ The Hour Before Midnight



We traveled at a good pace through a maze of hallways I’d never been down before. In moments, Jean-Claude glided into his bedroom and deposited me effortlessly in the middle of the bed. As he turned from me to close the door, I seized the opportunity to get undressed. I couldn’t manage it with any kind of grace lying down, so I rolled off the side of the bed and worked hastily to unfasten my jeans.

Jean-Claude faced me and tugged at the knot of lace at his throat. It fell open displaying an enticing triangle of white chest.

I watched him in growing fascination as he stripped off his shirt across the room from me. His eyes locked on mine as he draped it over a nearby chair. With an excruciating slowness, he popped the buttons down the front of his pants and opened them just enough to let me catch a glimpse of the glossy black curls furring his groin. Running his left hand down the side of his left leg, he pulled at the leather lacings of his thigh-high boot to loosen them. With more grace than I could have managed, he stepped out of it; then repeated the process with his right leg.

Straightening again, he locked his eyes on mine and started towards me. The muscles beneath his skin flexed and rippled as he walked and I felt the breath catch in my throat at the sight of him. Pure animal lust was coursing through my veins now because every movement he made was sexual and uber seductive.

“Oh god,” I whispered. “I want you so bad right now.” I wiggled out of my jeans and practically tore off my shirt. I still had my bra and panties on, but Jean-Claude was so close to me now, I suddenly couldn’t do anything besides watch him.

It wasn’t the ardeur spurring on my desire either. I knew he hadn’t released it yet and I was glad he hadn’t. It helped keep me from pouncing on him and going at it right there on the floor like some rapacious wanton. Not that I thought for a minute he would have minded, but I would have. He deserved a little more decorum than that.

Jean-Claude stopped a few inches in front of me and raised his hand. He ran his long fingers from the top of my head, over my face and throat, and then down to my cleavage. I closed my eyes, savoring the sensuality of his touch.

“Sssshh,” he soothed and bent forward to softly kiss me. He gathered me into his arms, nearly lifting me off my feet, and steadily deepened the kiss.

I dragged my hands down his sides and impatiently peeled back his skintight pants, exposing the top of the perfectly sloping curve of his butt. Trailing my fingertips across the taut, yet pliant muscle below the small of his back, I explored his form with unabashed relish.

I turned my head away from his ravishing mouth just long enough to speak. “Off,” I gasped and tugged at his pants so he would understand what I wanted.

Stepping away from me without hesitation, he slid his pants down past his hips and down the long length of his legs, revealing his penchant for wearing nothing underneath. He nudged the garment aside with his foot and stepped towards me again, tossing his hair back over his shoulder as he did. He gestured at my bra.

“Off,” he echoed, reaching around my back. Jean-Claude deftly snapped the clasp of my bra and slid it off my shoulders. He pulled away from me just far enough to lift it off me, and then tossed it aside. His attention turned to my breasts now and he covered them with his hands, rubbing my nipples over his palms and squeezing them gently until they were achingly hard. I closed my eyes and practically swooned, feeling all my blood rush to my crotch, making it throb with need.

Delving my hands into Jean-Claude’s hair, I guided his head down encouragingly. He obliged me willingly, bending over to wetly suckle my nipple. His arm slid around my waist and he lifted me, pivoting around so my back was to the bed. Without raising his head, he picked me up and set me on the mattress on my knees, then trailed small kisses across my chest to my other breast to lavish attention on it for awhile.

I bent down and dropped kisses on his hair, bunching up his long silky tresses in my hands. He really had the most beautiful hair…. Languidly, I ran my fingers through it, massaging his scalp and the base of his skull before sliding my palms down his neck to his shouders. They moved beneath my hands as if he were sliding away from me. I opened my eyes to look down at him curiously.

He peered back up at me and smiled reassuringly, then pressed a soft kiss between my breasts before dropping to his knees in front of me. His mouth meandered down the length of my torso to the waistband of my panties. Reaching up, he carefully eased them down my thighs and leaned forward to brush his lips over my lower abdomen, making me seize with anticipation.

Twisting his hair tightly around my hands, I waited, feeling his fingers spreading me open to him. Closing my eyes, I told myself to breathe and when I felt that first sensuous flick of his tongue, I gasped. Tremors of pleasure rippled through me and my mind zeroed in on every exhilarating caress his mouth made.

Soon, the pleasure became so intense, I couldn’t stay up on my knees and crumpled back against the mattress. Jean-Claude accommodatingly climbed up to join me and continued his ministrations with even more zeal. He grasped my thighs and pushed them apart to allow him deeper access between my legs. His tongue delved into me, lapping at my moist insides with a maddening rhythm that sent me into delirious fits of pleasure. I moaned and thrashed around, grinding my hips against his mouth with wild abandon. Then, the first sparks of my impending orgasm shot through my mind, telling me the time had come.

“Release it,” I gasped, hoisting Jean-Claude’s head up from between my legs. “Release it and fuck me.”

A split second later, I felt the ardeur fall over me like a wave of heat just as Jean-Claude’s body descended over me. I felt him push himself into me and tangle his legs around mine. I pushed back against him as he started pumping me. Wrapping my arms around his waist, I clutched him tightly to me, scraping my teeth against his chest to keep from screaming too loud. My body was spasming harder with each luscious thrust of his hips and in moments I was spiraling out of control with a mind-blowing ecstasy, writhing and shrieking my release until I was zapped of strength.

With my brain still shorting out from climatic aftershocks, I was only vaguely aware of Jean-Claude’s orgasm when he came seconds later. I stroked his back while his body clenched on top of me and lavished his chest with dozens of kisses. Slowly, his shuddering subsided and the tension in his muscles eased. He curled himself around me, opening his eyes to peer down at me and murmured something breathy and French at me I didn‘t understand.

I smiled and panted under him, reaching up to encircle his neck with my arms to draw him down to me for a kiss. He readily lowered his face to mine, but paused just before our lips met. As he spoke, I could feel the brush of his cool breath against my mouth.

“I love you, Anita.”

There was something in his tone that sent chills prickling down my spine that had nothing to do with the sex despite the fact he remained nestled snugly between my legs and hadn‘t made any move to pull out of me. I blinked up at him and studied his face for any kind of clue as to what he was thinking. As usual, his beautiful face was void of expression, but that, more than anything, told me there was something definitely wrong.

I reached up and stroked the side of his face. “I love you too,” I murmured then closed my eyes to receive his kiss. It was all about emotion despite the passion with which it was bestowed. There was a veiled need behind his tenderness that seemed to speak volumes.

“Jean-Claude talk to me,” I begged him. “Tell me what’s really going on. You say you’re protecting me, but keeping me ignorant of the situation puts me in more danger. How can I be prepared to react to something that I’m not expecting? Don’t do this to me. You’re frightening me more than anything. You’re making me feel vulnerable and vulnerable is not something I enjoy feeling.”

Jean-Claude sighed heavily. He gazed down at me and licked his lips slowly. “I’m sorry,” he began. “You are right. I should just tell you. It is not going to make any difference at this point in time I’m sure. It won’t change anything, but if knowing what I do will help keep you from harm, then at least something positive will come of it.”

I could have cried with relief at his aquiesence, but instead, I braced myself for what was to come, not sure if I really wanted to know his secrets or not.

Jean-Claude shifted his body off mine and rolled over on his side next to me. He put his arm around my waist and lay his head over my shoulder so his mouth was very close to my ear. Taking another deep breath, he started speaking and his voice sounded distant despite his nearness.

“I believe I mentioned to you, at one time I had been imprisoned in a coffin.”

I cleared away the tightness in my throat as I recalled the story. Knowing him now, it was easy to forget the horrors he had been subjected to earlier in his existence. I nodded slightly. “Yes. I remember.”

“There are vampires who are trained to release the ones confined,” he went on.

I remembered our ordeal with Damian and Gretchen. “I know,” I said quietly.

“Aristide was one of the vampires who freed me. I was…not myself after being confined for so long and no one wanted me. I had no where to go, no one to turn to. It was Aristide who took me in and looked after me until I had fully recovered. We were both something of social pariahs in those days and found consolation in each others arms. I merely used him in our time together, but unbeknownst to me, he had fallen in love. I left him as soon as I was able to try to reconcile with Asher and I hurt him deeply. After all he did for me, I treated him despicably.”

I rolled over on my side to face Jean-Claude, stretching my hand out to stroke the tendrils of hair lying across his arm. “How did you find out about this?” I asked softly, though I think I already knew.

Jean-Claude lowered his eyes, dropping his gaze from mine. “When he came to me to request asylum here. He told me I owed him that much and in all honesty, I couldn’t dispute it.”

I nodded. “Asher disagreed.”

A fleeting shadow of a smile flitted across his features for less than a heartbeat, and then disappeared. “Oui. To put it mildly. Aristide hates Asher for supposedly taking me away from him and even tried to have Belle kill him on more than one occasion.”

“But…you felt like you owed him,” I surmised.

“To a point,” Jean-Claude replied. He looked up at me again. “Residence in my lands was not the only thing Aristide requested of me in payment of his…services.”

I was already getting a certain sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, but I took a steadying breath and ran my hand down Jean-Claude’s arm to grasp his hand. “Go on.”

“Aristide requested a night with you,” he told me, his voice lowering. “It is customary for master vampires to lend out their servants to others. He saw nothing wrong with the request since he had admired you the moment he saw you.”

This was beginning to make sense now. I brought Jean-Claude’s hand to my lips and kissed it. “Thank you for not agreeing to that.”

It became apparent from the look in Jean-Claude’s eyes that my appreciation was the only worthwhile thing to come of his refusing Aristide. What he said next confirmed it.

“You’re most welcome; however, I fear my denying him is what set this wheel of tragic events into motion. He all but disappeared after that night, but not until he had directly threatened to find a way to get to you without having to go through me. He means to kill you, ma petite. He swore he’d find a way to destroy my power-base and now I believe he has. Le Sergeant was right. If these attacks continue, there’ll be no way to placate the fears of the humans in this city.”

I stared back at him incredulously. “You think what he’s doing is setting a trap to bring me to him? That’s why you don’t want me going after him?”

Jean-Claude nodded. “He’s a powerful vampire. And you will not be immune to his influence. If you hunt him down, you’ll be playing right into his hands. I do not mean to downplay your rather impressive abilities, ma petite, but I’d rather not risk it. I’d rather not risk you. Believe me when I say, I have every vampire in this city searching for him. We will find him, there’s no doubt about that. I am simply asking you to step aside, just this once, and let me be his executioner.”

I raised myself up on my elbow. “But don’t you see, he’s not just out to get me. He wants you. How do you know this isn’t his way of forcing you to go after him? We don’t know this, Jean-Claude. Not for sure. You have to let me help capture him. You don’t want to risk me, well, I don’t want to risk you.”

Jean-Claude sat up now. “Ma petite, you’re giving him more credit than is due.”

I shook my head. “All right. Listen. He knows who I am--what I do. He threatens me and then devises a way to ensure you will be the one to have to deal with him. He’s got something up his sleeve. This isn’t about me. It’s about you.”

I must have made some sense, because Jean-Claude wasn’t arguing with me. Instead he looked rather depressed. “He’s gone completely insane,” he muttered. “He has to know, either way, he will not get away with any of this. In the end he will be killed. He must just be hoping to take one of us down with him.”

Nodding, I crossed my arms over my chest feeling chilled. Bits of phrases, smatterings of conversations, and words on lavender paper all came crowding into my mind. I remembered my talk with Damian before we left for the morgue: Even now, I see my wretched existence then, and my pointless, wasted existence now, and wish I could find some way to be rid of it all. Then Jason talking about archaic vampires and how some of them have a hard time adjusting. Jean-Claude saying earlier this evening: he’s as good as dead. The advertisement in the paper that ended with the words: Join me. The three suicide notes: I‘ve decided I don‘t want to do this anymore but I‘m too much of a coward to end it all alone; No one wants me, no one loves me, what’s the point in going on?

“Oh my god,” I said as the full force of what I’d just realized hit me. “Those notes. They aren’t the victims’. They’re his.”








Jean-Claude and I had joined up with Jason and Asher in the spacious living room beneath the Circus. As I relayed to them our new theories, I had their full attention. They followed me with their eyes as I paced a small path in front of them on the carpet next to the sofa.

“But isn’t immortality one of vampirism’s biggest selling points?” Jason asked no one in particular. “Why would this vampire actually want to be killed? Doesn’t that go against his hard-wiring?”

I shook my head. “Humans and other mortals tend to believe that nothing could be more appealing than living forever, but I think unless you’re living the perfect life, living forever isn’t such a good deal.” I glanced over at Jean-Claude, who was sitting next to Asher at the end of the sofa. I gestured at the tall, blonde vampire tucked under his arm. “I know you know what I’m talking about.”

Asher nodded solemnly. “Oui. All too well.”

I faced Jason again. “Damian told me recently he had often thought about killing himself. Imagine being tortured every day of your life for a thousand years? A thousand years! And if Jean-Claude hadn’t ransomed him away from his mistress, he could have been tortured for another thousand years. Explain to me the appeal of that?”

Jason nodded. “Damian’s never been the happiest vampire, but he’s had good reason. What about Aristide? Why do you think he’d want to kill himself?”

“Why does anybody want to kill themselves?” I questioned.

Jason had to think about that for a minute. “They lose hope, I guess.” He looked over at Jean-Claude to confirm his answer. “Do you think maybe Aristide has lost hope in something?”

Jean-Claude shifted slightly next to Asher and absently ran his fingers up and down his arm as he considered the possibility. “Granted, Aristide doesn’t have much to live for,” he said softly. “As long as I’ve known him, he’s never found someone to share his life with. He has always been alone and has always been a prostitute--which is not the most edifying profession. Despite his power, he is not a master vampire and has routinely wandered the world many times over in search of somewhere he could call his home. He’s very bitter and he feels cheated by fate somehow.”

“The problem with Aristide is he will not do for himself,” Asher added with a sneer. “He wants everything handed to him and it just doesn’t work that way. Once he and Jean-Claude were on the same level.” He turned his head to face his lover and smiled, but continued to address me. “Now Jean-Claude is a soudre de sang, to say the very least.”

“The very least,” Jean-Claude echoed.

“So he’s miserable,” Jason continued. “Why doesn’t he just off himself? Why go on a murdering spree? Just so he can be hunted and killed?”

“These murders are merely a way for him to sabotage my vampiric infrastructure,” Jean-Claude said with a heartfelt sigh. “And murdering humans is the equivelent of waving a red cape in front of a bull, as far as ma petite goes.” He looked at me and winked.

“Then, by all means, let’s oblige the poor bastard,” Asher more or less growled. “If death is what he wants, we’ll be more than happy to put him to death.”

Jason sat forward and clasped his hands together in barely contained enthusiasm. “So what’s the plan?”

I chewed my lip a moment before answering. “Jean-Claude has called off his people. We both came to the conclusion that Aristide won’t show if he knows they’re the ones hunting him. He’ll stay in hiding, and while that’s a wonderful way to keep more women from being murdered, it’s not the way we’re going to catch him. He wants me and Jean-Claude to go after him. If we let him think his ploy has worked, he won’t stop conducting business as usual.”

Jason looked at his watch. “It’s twelve-thirty-five. If we leave now, we can be at Guilty Pleasure in less than a half hour. We could still catch him tonight.”

I was just about to nod when the phone rang. None of us were expecting it and the sound was startling to say the least. I watched Jean-Claude rise to his feet and cross the room to answer it. He picked it up on the third ring and greeted the errant caller with a less-than-enthusiastic ‘hello’. Moments later, his eyes locked on mine.

“Oui, she is here,” he told the caller. “Let me get her on the line for you.”

Lowering the phone from his ear, Jean-Claude held it out to me and sighed heavily. “It is a Detective Clive Perry. He wishes to speak to you.”

My stomach clenched knowingly. When the police call looking for you in the middle of the night, you know it isn’t a social call. I took the phone from Jean-Claude and took a deep breath.

“Perry? Hey, it’s Anita. What’s happened?” I said clutching the phone to my ear with both hands.

“Anita, I’m sorry to interrupt your evening,” Perry said politely. What a breath of fresh air compared to Dolph’s comments earlier.

“That’s okay. What’s up?”

“A fourth victim was discovered in a stairwell of an apartment building just west of town. It appears to have a similar method of operation as the previous three. The body’s been drained by a single vampire bite and there’s evidence of sexual activity prior to death.”

I glanced at Jean-Claude. He hadn’t moved away after handing me the phone and was facing me with his hands on his hips. I’m sure he knew what the police were calling for too and he certainly didn‘t look happy about it.

“Was there a note around the body? On purple-colored paper?” I asked into the phone.

Perry murmured something to somebody talking to him in the background about keeping ‘those people’ back, and then answered me with a simple, “Yes.”

I swore under my breath. We had only called off the ‘troops’ less than a half hour ago. Sure Aristide had killed this woman in a more secluded place, but he had still been able to kill her without anyone finding him.

“What’s going on over there?” I asked with a growing sense of dread.

Perry sighed heavily enough to be heard over the phone. “Somebody tipped the press and you know as well as I do, wherever there’s a news van parked, a crowd starts to gather. Well, this one’s starting to get ugly.”

“I’m on my way, Perry,” I told him. “What’s the address?”

He gave it to me and I grabbed a pen that was on the end table and wrote it down on my palm. I was surprised it was located so far from where the other murders had occurred. Aristide clearly hadn’t gone to Guilty Pleasures tonight as he had planned.

Hanging up the phone, I handed it back to Jean-Claude and stepped around him. Asher and Jason looked at me expectantly.

“Aristide’s killed again. They’ve found another body with another purple suicide note. He’s just mocking us now. He’s fucking mocking us.” I shook my head. “I’ve got to go.”

All three men were at my side in an instant. I looked at them and shook my head harder. Jean-Claude reached out and grasped my jaw, turning my head to face him. He looked me squarely in the eye and slowly shook his head. Clearly, I was not to argue. I sighed heavily and threw up my hands.

“Fine! But for Pete’s sake, try to be inconspicuous! It could be a mob scene down there!”

“Mob scene?” Jason asked dubiously. He crossed his arms over his chest.

I nodded. “You know. Like the villagers are gathering with their torches?”

“Don’t worry about us,” Asher put in. “Villagers are the least of our concerns right now.”

I looked up at him and gestured forward. “Shall we then?”

“Oui,” Jean-Claude said simply and turned to go.

There was nothing left to do but follow.


What the hell had I been thinking?

Even under the most normal circumstances, a group of men together tend to draw attention. Three nice-looking men, even more so. Make that three really nice-looking, supernatural men, and they were very nearly stopping traffic. Then when Damian dropped out of the sky to join us, I knew there was no way I was going to be able to slip inconspicuously into this crime scene.

I faced my vampire with a slightly disapproving scowl that he obviously didn’t understand, but I wasn‘t going to waste time explaining. “What are you doing here? You’re supposed to be at the police station.”

Peering back at me, he knit his brow in agitation. “I told you I would find you when I had finished there.” He gestured at Jean-Claude, Jason, and Asher. “It wasn’t hard.”

I frowned, shooting a quick glance at the crowd of on-lookers behind the yellow police tape. Some were pointing right at us and others were whispering to the person next to them. The reporter, who had been taping a segment for the local news in front of the apartment building, apparently noticed the crowd’s reaction and got wind of Jean-Claude’s presence. She quickly gathered up her cameraman to pursue us from across the parking lot. It didn’t help that she was screaming Jean-Claude’s name to get his attention. Soon, we had most of the on-lookers heading our way as well.

Jean-Claude looked at me, raising his hand to stave off anything he anticipated I might say. “I will speak to her,” he announced. “It will distract them from you.”

I took a deep breath. I wasn’t good with the media and Jean-Claude knew this. The times I’d been approached by them in his company, I’d come off looking like the proverbial deer in the headlights. At times like this, I really hated the press though. I totally understood the need to keep the public informed, but for crying out loud, they could show a little more respect for the dead woman and her family.

The light the camera guy was holding blazed on just as we started walking towards the apartment building, stopping us short. The reporter lady couldn’t have cared less about me however; she was after Jean-Claude. This was one of the few times I pitied Jean-Claude’s media-magnetism. What a scoop though! Local news gets exclusive comments with the Master of the City! I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d break in regular programming to go live with this one. I’d no sooner thought that when I heard the reporter speaking into her microphone: “We’re live with….”

Asher and Damian flanked me as I strode on towards the front door of the apartment building. Jean-Claude and Jason trailed after us the best they could; Jean-Claude was fielding questions from the reporter, vaguely answering her and declining to comment on anything specific. We made it as far as the police tape before the uniforms on guard stopped us, making me fish out my badge.

“Anita Blake, Federal Marshal,” I announced, sweeping the badge from side to side so everyone within a ten foot radius could see it.

“These other people need to stay back!” one of the taller uniforms with blonde hair barked. He was waving his gun at the crowd, looking a little unsettled to say the least.

Completely undaunted, Asher strode up to him and looked him right in the eye. Needless to say, the officer backed down. Then with more grace than I ever managed, Asher ducked under the police tape and held it up for me as I passed under it. Damian followed closely at my heels and Jean-Claude and Jason slipped quickly under the tape behind us, looking grateful to be escaping the television cameras.

Apparently it was all about attitude because none of the uniforms protested the parade of men following me into the crime scene. I guess they figured since they looked and acted like they had every right to be there, they probably should be. I’m sure a little vampire powers were thrown in the mix for good measure. Jean-Claude’s power combined with Asher’s was more than enough to make the good officer lose time here and there. Just enough so no one would notice them.

I had never been a cop, but I knew all too well the importance of preserving a crime scene. The fewer bodies traipsing through it the better. As we stepped into the hallway of the apartment building, I told Jason and Damian to have a look around but stay out of the stairwell, it was going to be a tight enough fit with a body, myself, and two master vampires.

Clive Perry was talking to a civilain man dressed only in boxer shorts and a stained muscle tee shirt. He was a good forty pounds overweight and his graying hair was mussed and standing on end as if he’d just crawled out of bed--which he probably had at this time of night. I couldn’t help but notice the tears streaming from his face and he was fighting valiantly not to break down completely. I approached him and Perry tentatively.

“Theresa was a good girl!” the man seemed to be protesting. “So what if she was shacking up? Who doesn’t these days? She told me she loved the guy and I believed her. It was her husband that did this! Her husband beat her up just about every night before she left him. I never met a meaner sonofabitch. He killed her, I tell you! She didn’t give herself to no vampire! He staged it. Her old man. He did it!” Finally he gave into his emotions and sobbed into his hands. Perry motioned to a nearby uniform to escort the poor man away, then turned and faced me.

“The uncle,” Perry said. “He’s the one who found her. A tenant called him and said she thought she heard some ruckus in the stairwell. He went to investigate. He owns this apartment building. His neice rented a two-bedroom on the fourth floor. She moved in after she left her husband two months ago and recently started co-habitating with another man. Her name is Theresa Mermalone. The uncle is Vincent. He’s convinced her husband killed her, but it’s obvious our rapacious vampire got to her. Take a look.”

I turned to ask Jean-Claude a question but he and Asher had slipped quietly off somewhere. I looked around futilely, but neither one was in the hall. Forced to leave them to their own devices, I followed Perry through a glass fire door exit into a stairwell made of polished cement painted a sickly-colored pale green. It made my skin look like I’d been battling a bad case of influenza and lost.

“Does anyone have any idea as to who the guy living with her is? Anyone know where he is?“ I blinked up at Perry, whose dark complexion let him fair a little better under the harshness of the lights. He gestured upwards.

“Forensics is in the apartment now but they haven‘t turned up anything yet. Hopefully we can track down the guy before he sees this on the nightly news. The uncle never knew his last name, but his first name was Mort.”

“Mort?” It struck me as an unusual name for this day and age. I mean, no one goes around naming their baby boys Mortimer anymore. At least I sure as hell hoped not.

Perry just nodded. “She’s in between the second and third floors. The coroner is standing by to take her away when you’re finished. The pathologists have already been through. We were just waiting for you to confirm the kill, so after you’ve made your assessment, come see me. I’ll be in the apartment. 12D. I want to show you something.”

I nodded and grasped the metal handrail, starting up the stairs. I couldn’t help noticing a trail of tiny numbered yellow cones marking small stains up the steps. I bent down to examine the stains more closely and realized they were blood stains. Interesting.

There is no doubt, ma petite, Jean-Claude suddenly relayed to me mentally. Aristide was her killer. His power is all over her. The scent of his body around her is pungent.

Where the hell are you? I asked Jean-Claude in my mind. I didn’t need to bother, because turning the corner to mount the third flight of stairs, I saw him and Asher kneeling on either side of a woman’s inverted body. Jean-Claude’s hand was on her bathrobe-clad arm and he seemed to be in deep thought. He looked up as I approached and nodded gravely, rising to his feet. Asher stayed kneeling where he was, and appeared to be examining the steps above the victim’s bare feet.

I sighed heavily, blowing air through my teeth. This woman looked to be in her mid-thirties and definitely appeared to have had a hard time of it before this. Her nose was crooked having been broken maybe a couple of times and she was missing her two top incisors. She was only wearing a bathrobe that was loosely tied at the waist and nude underneath. It had bunched up over her twisted legs since she was facing head down, on her back, which gave me the impression she might have fallen sometime during the attack.

I examined her for other vampire bites, but there weren’t any. A first time caller? What genuinely surprised me was the fact her slim wrists bore two identical vertical slash scars that clearly stated that this woman had tried to kill herself once before. Now there were two fresher slash marks on her throat. She must have struggled because the bite was savage-looking, exposing the cartilage and the torn windpipe in her neck.

“A wound like that and there’s hardly any blood,” I said out loud. “Just a few drops on the stairs below. That kind of thing screams vampire. He must have met her here and then attacked her.” The bathrobe thing was puzzling though, but then maybe I was just more modest than she had been. “Tell me if this seems strange to you, but if she had arranged a meeting with a prostitute in a stairwell behind her boyfriend’s back, wouldn’t she have at least put some sort of clothes on? Even if she was going through with the whole Death Fantasy thing. She lives…lived on the fourth floor. If she wanted to stay in her bathrobe, why didn’t she just take him up to her apartment?”

Asher looked at me. “She did, cherie. He brought her here, but he didn’t kill her here,” he stated and gestured at the steps above her feet. “There’s a faint trail of tissue here. It continues on up the stairs.” He paused here and strangely enough lifted one of the victim’s legs, turning the back of it to me so I could see what he was talking about. “The skin on her heels is gone--scraped off. He dragged her down the stairs, don’t you see? He more than likely killed her in her apartment.”

I frowned as something struck me. “Is there blood stains on the stairs above her too?” Asher rose and nimbly jogged up a few steps out of my line of vision. “Oui, Anita. The police have marked them. They go all the way up.”

And all the way down too. I thought for a moment, studying the body and the position she was in. Asher was right. She had been dragged down the cement stairs from the fourth floor, but since she wasn‘t bleeding anywhere, the blood trail was a bit of a mystery. Especially the trail that continued down below. The shape of the spots told me they had actually fallen from a higher distance, like from someone standing. Most likely it wasn‘t her blood at all….

Jean-Claude came down the steps over to me. “You were right about us forcing him into hiding. He didn’t want to kill her in seclusion, but he had no choice. If he had taken her on the streets, my people would have found him. This was for our sake, ma petite.”

“Why else would he drag her body out of the apartment?” I agreed. “Dumping her in the stairwell was like leaving his calling card.” I lifted the head carefully and examined the back for some kind of contusion. There wasn’t any, so she hadn’t fallen backwards like I had first believed. Asher was right. I took a deep breath and looked up. “Forensics apparently has his other calling card up in her apartment. If you two can keep up the camouflage trick, I’d like you to come up with me and take a look around. Who knows? You might find something forensics overlooked.” I really didn’t feel the need to examine Theresa Mermalone anymore. Perry was right. What and who killed her was obvious. “I‘ve seen all I need to here.”

As the three of us gingerly made our way around the sprawling body to head upstairs, Asher turned and peered over his shoulder at the woman lying there.

“Triste,” he lamented. “C’est triste. My heart goes out to her.”

I put my hand on his back and rubbed it soothingly. “Asher, I’d like to think she’s in a better place now. No more abusive husbands, no more pain, no more loneliness.”

He looked back at me piercingly. “And if we kill Aristide? Will we be sending him to a better place? Rewarding him for his gross misdeeds?”

I had to think about that for a moment. I personally had always believed once a vampire was killed, he or she was just gone. Dead. I had long preached the fact they had no souls to go to heaven or hell. I didn’t want to come right out and say that however, considering I was looking into the faces of two vampires I willingly adored. Finally, I just shook my head. “No. We won’t be sending him to his reward.”

Jean-Claude turned his head as if something just occurred to him. “But by killing him, we will be giving him exactly what he wants, oui?”

Frowning deeply, I shrugged. “I guess, in a way, we will be.”

Jean-Claude then turned to Asher and spoke something in rapid French to him that I couldn’t understand. I hated when they did this, especially with me standing right there in between them, but I think some things were better discussed in their native tongue to ensure there was no possibility of incomprehension.

It didn’t take long before my curiosity got the better of me though. Tactfully, I cleared my throat as they continued talking over my head. Literally. “Either of you boys want to clue me in on this conversation?”

Jean-Claude suddenly peered down at me as if he just noticed me beside him. “Asher and I agree these crimes are heinous.”

I nodded. “No arguing that.”

“To simply put Aristide to death is not a fit punishment for such crimes.”

I glanced from Jean-Claude to Asher, not liking the implications behind what Jean-Claude was saying. “You want to torture him first?”

“Torture him forever,” Asher growled. “Seal him up so he never sees another face again. Never walks about, never feeds, and slowly, very slowly, wastes away.”

The very notion, combined with the creepy way Asher had just relayed it, made me shudder in my shoes. I stopped in my tracks and looked back at him aghast.

“That’s just…cruel, Asher.” I had always had a problem with torture.

Asher shook his head. “He’ll be off the streets. He won’t be allowed to harm another living being. Isn’t that what you want above all things?”

“Not at that price!” I answered, raising my voice. I turned to Jean-Claude and pointed an accusatory finger at him. “You’ve been sealed in a coffin before, you know what it’s like, yet you’re willing to do this to a man you once loved?”

“I never loved him,” Jean-Claude said very meticulously. “I used him, ma petite. I indulged in him. He was nothing more than a means to an end for me. Now he is a rogue murderer. He deserves nothing less.”

I sighed heavily under the weight of his conviction, struggling to come to terms with the cruelty he and Asher had planned. Finally, I closed my eyes and nodded.

“How about a compromise?”

Both vampires turned and looked down at me expectantly. I grasped the metal handrail tightly and hoisted myself to the steps above them, forcing them to look up now. It was all about attitude.

“You can keep him imprisoned for a year,” I pronounced. “After a year, you kill him. Agreed?”

Asher and Jean-Claude turned to look at each other. Then they both faced me again clearly having conferred with each other in that single glance.

“It is agreed,” Jean-Claude said quietly. “But let me tell you this. Aristide is clearly not mentally stable. Even just after one year, ma petite, if we release him, we will most likely have to kill him. If we leave him the way he is, he‘ll adjust after time. Think about that.”

I did and it didn’t make me feel a whole lot better. “At least he’ll be out of his misery.”

“And that is what you think he deserves?” Asher asked sharply.

I faced him, angry now. “You’re better than this. I know you are, but I can feel your hatred for this vampire like a tangible entity hovering around you. I know he tried to have you killed, but in his eyes you took away the only person he apparently ever loved. Does this sound at all familiar to you Asher? Looking back on your misguided passions now, would you condemn yourself to an eternity of imprisonment for it?”

Asher bowed his head and furrowed his brow. “Looking back from where I stand now, perhaps not. Then neither did I feel worthy of forgiveness either. I often think I should have been punished. Maybe not with imprisonment, but somehow. It would have helped me better come to terms with what I had done and what I had fully intended to do. Aristide expects to be punished, Anita. He knows what he is doing is wrong. We are simply giving him the chance to come to terms with the severity of his crimes. One year hardly sounds fair. But if you can live with that, so can we.”

“Fine. We’re all agreed then.” We reached the fourth floor in a shroud of uneasy silence however. I think they knew I wasn’t very happy right now and had little to offer by way of consolation. I pushed open the door to the hall, glad to be free of the sickly-green stairwell. My skin still looked a little on the green side however. Queasy? Not me.





CHAPTER FOURTEEN~ Evidence of an Unrequited Love



We immerged from the stairwell into the hall and made our way through the mass of uniforms questioning neighbors and discussing clues with each other. Continuing through the marked door of apartment 12D, I stepped inside and gave the place a quick once over. The room wasn’t much to look at. There was a modest sofa, an easy chair, a coffee table covered with newspapers and women’s magazines, a television and a VCR that blinked 12:00 continuously.

Clive Perry was talking to an officer by the one small window positioned directly opposite the front door. I made my way over to him to see what it was he had for me.

“Detective,” I hailed, stepping up to him. I quickly relayed to him the conclusions I’d come to while in the stairwell. He nodded solemnly in agreement, but didn’t look particularly surprised by anything I had to say. Obviously forensics had already come to the same conclusion. “So. What do you have for me?”

Clive Perry faced me and handed me a folded newspaper sealed in a plastic evidence bag and the infamous purple-colored suicide note. “Theresa Mermalone didn’t write this note. There‘s samples of her writing all over the apartment. Our only guess is the vampire did.”

Lifting up the bag containing the pale purple note, I held it up high enough so Jean-Claude and Asher could read it over my shoulder.

The first thing that struck me was the awful penmanship. It looked like a third grader had written it in a big hurry. Second, was all the exclamation points. Third was all the expletives. He was pissed now. That much was obvious.

This is your fault! I fucking hate what you’ve done! I hate how you treat me! Look what you made me do! I‘m going to make you sorry! Things are only going to get worse for you now! You really fucked this up! You’re ruining everything! I hate you! Hate you! Hate you! Hate you!

I cleared my throat. “Not much of a suicide note, is it?”

Perry shook his head. “No. He’s trying to tell us or someone, something. But what, I’ve no clue.”

Licking my lips, I handed the note back to Perry and talked to Jean-Claude in my head. Can I assume this note was meant for you? Did it tell you anything you didn‘t already know?

Nothing that gives us any clues as to his whereabouts, Jean-Claude answered somewhat despondently. Just his fractured state-of-mind.

With that, Jean-Claude and Asher, still cloaked in their power, split up and prowled the adjacent rooms without any of forensics mulling around them even batting an eye.

“We believe she was murdered while in bed,” Perry continued, completely oblivious to the two vampires’s previous presences. “There’s some small blood stains and evidence of ejaculate on the sheets. What I don’t get is why he just didn’t leave her on the bed. Why drag her into the stairwell? That’s the part that doesn’t make sense to me.” He paused and tapped the other plastic evidence bag I was now holding. “But take a look at this.”

The newspaper wasn’t old. In fact it was this morning’s headlines. Killer Vampire Takes Third Victim in Two Days. Not Suicides Police Chief Declares.

Feeling a distinctive nudge from Asher in my mind, I looked around the living room and spied him leaning against the bedroom doorframe. When we locked eyes, he made a subtle gesture for me to come to him. I tried to inconspicuously nod back, then turned around and faced Perry again. “Okay. What does that have to do with anything?”

Perry gestured towards the kitchen. “There’s evidence of a struggle in the kitchen. The phone has been torn off the wall and some silverware was spilled on the floor.” We walked into the kitchen. My eyes were immediately drawn to the little yellow cones numbering blood spots on the floor.

“More blood?”

“Mmhmm,” Perry confirmed. “Two theories here. One, the boyfriend was trying to stop Theresa from killing herself in the kitchen with a knife or something. A struggle ensued. He stormed out and Theresa got wind of this vampire prostitute who kills people who want to commit suicide. The second theory is she was struggling with the vampire. Maybe she called him, invited him in, but then changed her mind. He kills her anyway.”

I looked at the globular spots of blood more closely and frowned. “Or maybe the boyfriend and the vampire fought,” I surmised. “Somebody went for some silver and it got knocked on the floor. Are there any pieces of it missing? I bet you ten to one that this is the vampire’s blood. It explains the blood trail down the stairs too.” I was getting excited by the idea now. I peered up at Perry and smiled.

Perry smiled back. “Very good, Marshal Blake. I think you might be on to something. There’s a silver serving fork missing from the set. And, you’ll be happy to hear I’m having the blood analyzed as we speak. We should have the results back by tomorrow night. I put a rush on it.”

I suddenly remembered Asher wanting to see me in the bedroom. I bet he and Jean-Claude could tell if the blood was Aristide’s. Jean-Claude had said Aristide’s scent was all around. I had to wonder if maybe he was smelling the blood.

My mind racing now, I walked with Perry back into the living room, then paused. “Look. I’ve got someone with me who could identify the blood for you without having to send it to the lab. He’s not really supposed to be here, but I brought him along because I think he can help.”

Perry eyed me warily, then looked carefully around. “Okay, Anita. You’ve got my attention. Who are we talking about?”

“Jean-Claude. He’s here now with his second-in-command, Asher.”

Detective Perry frowned deeply, but said nothing. I jumped in voluntarily to put his mind at ease.

“Nobody even has to know they’re here,” I told him glancing around at the other officers in the room. “Didn’t you ever see the movie ‘Silence of the Lambs’? Sometimes, the best way to catch a criminal is with another criminal…so to speak. It’s like having a hands-on profiler. They’re vampires. They know vampires better than anyone on the force.”

“They’re not on the force,” Perry reminded me.

I bit my lower lip. “You know what I mean.”

“Anita, if Dolph or Zerbrowski catch them here, it’s going to be the biggest explosion since the atomic bomb.”

Just the thought of that made me visibly shudder. “Where are they anyway? Have you heard anything about the composite they were working on yet?”

Perry raised his brow. “They got a description? That’s good to hear.”

I smiled. “One of Jean-Claude‘s employees saw the killer with Cynthia Morris just before she died.”

Perry smiled back. “Well, if we’re going to use your vampires, let’s do it because Zerbrowski and Dolph should be on their way.”

Nodding, I made a beeline for the bedroom. Asher was still leaning on the doorframe. He straightened as I approached. I gestured at Perry behind me.

“It’s okay, Asher. This is Detective Clive Perry,” I introduced. “He would like you and Jean-Claude to examine some of the evidence the police have found and tell him what you think.”

Asher tilted his head curiously at me, then faced Perry. “I’m at your service, Monsieur.” He escorted us inside and waited for me to look around the room before he turned to face me. “Interesting, non? Jean-Claude’s found something of interest as well.”

Prying my eyes off the blackened windows and heavy draperies, I turned to face Jean-Claude. Surprisingly, he was rifling through the only closet in the room. He turned to face me as I moved towards him and seemed only vaguely surprised that Perry was with me.

“Bonsoir, Detective,” Jean-Claude greeted quietly. He dipped his head in Perry’s direction before turning his full attention back on me.

I frowned. “I know you’re a clothes horse, Jean-Claude, but is there some reason other than that you’re going through the closet?”

He chose not to dignify my jibe question with an answer, but instead, asked a question of his own. “Who is the man who resides here?”

I crossed my arms over my chest. “Theresa’s boyfriend, Mort.”


Nodding I stepped closer to him. “I’m sure I mentioned she lived with a boyfriend. No one seems to know much about him however. Not even his last name.”

Jean-Claude glanced up at Asher.

Asher smiled, almost slyly. He peered down at me. “Mort, ma cherie, means death en francais.”

That just about knocked the wind out of me. I had known that, but hadn’t made the connection. I felt a chill crawl up my spine. “What are you saying?”

Jean-Claude reached out and lifted the sleeve of one of the leather jackets in the closet. “These are his clothes, ma petite.” He paused and gestured around the room. “These are his things.”

Asher picked up the rest of the explanation. “At first, we thought we could smell him so strongly because he and the woman had had intercourse on the bed. But Jean-Claude noticed a gold chain on the bureau that he remembered seeing very recently. We began sifting through the other possessions of his in the room and his scent is quite literally, everywhere.”

I could hardly believe my ears. Perry was gaping open-mouthed at Jean-Claude, completely taken aback.

“You mean the vampire we’re looking for…lives here?” he asked, still somewhat flabbergasted.

Jean-Claude nodded. “Or did, Detective. I doubt he’ll return now.”

“We looked everywhere we could,” Asher added. “There’s no coffin. It has to be stored somewhere.”

Everything was beginning to make sense now. I elbowed Jean-Claude to get his attention while I talked to him in my mind. The pieces to tonight’s puzzle are falling into place. Aristide was forced off the streets and had to cancel his appointments and spend the night with Theresa. She didn’t have bite marks on her, so I don’t think she let him feed off her, but tonight he probably needed to. More than likely, Theresa put two and two together after reading the paper today and went to call the police or somebody. She and Aristide fought, he ripped the phone out of the wall, she stabbed him with a silver fork and he killed her, using her as his next victim.

“The blood!” I exclaimed out loud. “We need you two to look at the blood. We think it might be his.”

Asher raised his brow inquiringly.

“Someone was injured tonight with what we believe might be a silver serving fork from her dinnerware in the kitchen,” Perry explained to him.

Asher went right to the bed and knelt down. Lifting the spotted sheet, he passed the material under his nose a few times, then touched a spot with his forefinger and dabbed it on his tongue. Rising to his feet, he looked up and shook his head.

“It’s not human blood,” he stated knowingly.

I almost smiled. “He’s injured and he’s leaving a blood trail,” I said excitedly.

Catching my meaning, Jean-Claude nodded. “I’ll send for Jason,” he said. “If he has a coffin hidden somewhere, he won’t go far from it.”

“And if he’s lost enough blood, he’ll need to feed again,” Perry added. He sighed forcefully, sounding frustrated. “I sure would like to have that composite in my hand.”

That reminded me of Zerbrowski and Dolph. I grabbed Jean-Claude’s arm and ushered him away from the closet.

“That’s our cue to leave,” I told him. “I want to get out of here before Zerbrowski and more importantly Dolph get here. They’re on their way.”

Jean-Claude and Asher exchanged looks that clearly stated they both empathized with me. Then Jean-Claude faced Perry. “We’ll continue searching for the coffin, Dectective. When we find it, I’ll post one of my people there. It may not help catch our rogue, but it will certainly complicate things for him.”

Perry nodded. “I’m for that.”

He turned with Asher and me to leave, then hesitated and addressed Perry once more. “This will end tonight, Monsieur. We will stop this vampire. You have my word.”








Jason must have sensed our approach. He was waiting for us at the bottom of the stairs just inside the stairwell.

“They took the body away,” he announced. “So I figured it would be all right to come in here.” His bright blue eyes were twinkling with undisclosed enthusiasm.

I could tell he had more to say to us than that and wasn’t sure if discussing it out in the hall would be appropriate so I stopped where I was on the stairs and leaned on the handrailing. “Where’s Damian?” I wanted to know first off.

Jason flashed a quick smile. “You’re not going to believe this,” he began, rubbing his hands together as his gaze shot back and forth between Jean-Claude, Asher, and me. “You told Damian and I to scout around and we did. You’re gonna love what we found.”

“A coffin?” I asked with mock hope, being more facetious than anything. My luck usually didn’t run that good. Not in a million years.

Jason’s excited expression deflated. “How did you know? We thought you’d be surprised at least. Here we were all excited.”

I could hardly believe my ears and eyed him warily, suspecting he just might be teasing me. Before I could react appropriately, Jean-Claude stepped forward, glowering down at him threateningly.

“If you are joking about this my wolf, I promise you will not--” Apparently we both knew Jason’s sense of humor all too well.

Jason held up his hands as if to ward off his master’s ire. “It’s not a joke! We really did find a coffin! What? Don’t you believe me? Why would I kid about a thing like that?”

Jean-Claude backed off and shot a quick look at Asher before asking, “Where?”

“And where is Damian?” I asked Jason again.

“He’s with the coffin in the basement,” the young werewolf informed us. “He thought he should stay there just on the off chance the owner shows up. There‘s like an old storage closet there. We were just poking around down there to stay out of the cops’ way and more or less stumbled across it. Damian said it looked as if it had been used as recently as yesterday.”

“To make a long story short,” I explained. “The victim had just started shacking up with a guy, roughly around the same time Aristide darkened Jean-Claude’s doorstep. Turns out the victim’s roommate is a vampire. Even more surprising than that is when Jean-Claude and Asher got up to her apartment, they recognized some of Aristide’s things and his scent was everywhere.”

“Speaking of scents,” Asher began, addressing Jason and making a sweeping gesture behind him at the ascending stairs. “There’s a trail of blood that leads from the apartment on the fourth floor but seems to end here at the bottom of the stairs. We think Aristide was injured and maybe didn’t realize he was losing blood until he got to this point. He was stabbed with a piece of silver, so he won’t be healing the wound anytime soon, but he could have put something on it to stave off the bleeding. If you follow the scent, maybe you can track him for us. We might even find more blood if he didn’t take the time to bandage it well.”

The young werewolf perked up. “If he knows he’s leaving a blood trail, then he’s probably on the run.” He slipped past us to examine the spots of blood on the floor. Kneeling on the stairs, Jason took a few whiffs first looking up the steps, and then looking down. He pointed out the stairwell door which opened into the hall. “The scent gets fainter in this direction. He was obviously on his way out.” He got to his feet and trotted over to us. “You know, I thought I smelled blood in the hall, but I thought it was just the scent of the victim. I guess I didn’t realize it wasn’t human.” He faced me. “You’re sure this is his blood?”

Asher nodded. “Oui. I tasted it upstairs. It’s vampire.”

Jason nodded. “That works for me.”

I turned to Jean-Claude. “What about Damian? I need to at least go and tell him what is going on.”

Jean-Claude’s eyes flicked from mine to Jason’s and back again. “The trail grows colder with each passing minute, ma petite. We can’t afford to wait for you to physically go to him and come back. I’ll send another of my wolves to come and take over as guard for him, but until then, can’t you simply tell him what he needs to know?”

Cringing slightly, I shook my head. “No. Damian and I aren’t that…close. We don’t communicate like you and I do,” I admitted sheepishly.

Sighing as if he was struggling with his patience, Jean-Claude looked back at me and put his hands on his hips. “You two really need to start touching more.”

I rolled my eyes. “Fine. We’ll work on that. But for right now, I need to go to him.”

Asher straightened and faced me. “I’ll go to him, cherie. Don’t worry. Once Jean’s wolf arrives, the two of us can easily catch up to you. Go. Don’t give it another thought.”

Grasping Asher’s hand, I squeezed it in thanks, and then stretched up on my toes to give him a kiss. He caught my face in his hand as I was pulling away and took a moment to stare deeply into my eyes.

“Be careful, Anita.” He bent to kiss me once more, then turned and looked at Jean-Claude. “You too, mon ami.”

Jean-Claude smiled at him. “We’ll be fine.”

Jason cleared his throat. “What about me?”

Asher glanced over at Jason as if he just remembered the shapeshifter was there. “What about you?”

Jason grimaced at the tall blonde vampire. “Nothing. Nothing at all.”

Asher flashed a toothy grin at him, and then turned to descend the stairs leading down to the basement. Jean-Claude and I faced Jason.

“Let’s go,” I urged him, gesturing out the stairwell door. “Jean-Claude’s right. We’re wasting time.”

With that, Jason was all business. He moved ahead of us and pulled open the door. Cautiously he peered out and took several deep breaths. His head snapped around to the left and he motioned us to follow him. “This way.”


The scent trail led us out one of the fire exits that opened out into the alleyway behind the building. I could hardly see anything but the back of Jason’s light-colored shirt. He was a good distance ahead of us now and moving at a good clip. Jean-Claude and I held hands so we wouldn’t lose each other. He was gliding along on legs that were a lot longer than mine however and I was forced to break into a jog every couple of steps in order to keep up with him.

Jason abruptly stopped about two blocks away from the apartment building and turned around to face us. He crouched low to the ground and waved us forward.

“More blood,” he announced as soon as we caught up to him. “Look here. He’s still losing blood.” He pointed at a spot in the road that looked like it could have been anything.

I frowned down at him. “I’ll take your word for it.” I looked around at where we were at and frowned even deeper. “Where the hell is he going?” This wasn’t exactly one of the better parts of town.

“Away,” Jean-Claude murmured. “He’s trying to get away. He won’t go towards the river because he knows he stands a good chance of being caught there. My guess is he’s staying as close to his coffin as he can, biding his time until he’s certain it is safe to return.”

“If he’s still losing blood, he’s got to be hurt pretty bad,” Jason pointed out. “He might be looking for someone else to chow on too.”

That gave me an idea. I faced Jean-Claude. “I say we ring the dinner bell then.”

Jean-Claude and Jason both looked back at me warily. I quickly explained my plan.

“I think Jason is right. If Theresa hurt Aristide enough that he’s been losing blood all this time, the blood he got from her won’t sustain him. He’s probably searching for another victim as we speak. Human blood will help him heal faster too. I say, once we get close enough to know he’s in the vicinity, I set myself up to draw him out. He sees me wondering the back alleys alone, he’ll come running.”

Jason shook his head forcefully, but Jean-Claude merely closed his eyes and took a deep steadying breath. In turn, I sighed in relief that he wasn’t going to waste time arguing. The young werewolf apparently had other ideas.

“Anita, are you nuts?” he asked flatly, taking hold of my upper arm as if to shake some sense into me. “If Aristide attacks you, he’s going to be going for the kill. He’s wounded. He’s in pain. He’s scared and hungry and vulnerable--just like an animal that gets wounded only ten times worse.”

Before I could say anything , Jean-Claude seized Jason’s wrist and locked his eyes on his wolf in warning. He removed Jason’s hand from my arm and stepped in front of me.

“Leave her alone,” he said quietly, then turned around to face me. Taking up my hand in his, Jean-Claude drew me closer to him and nodded once. He waved Jason on letting him know he was not to protest further. “Go. Now.”

Obediently, Jason turned on his heel and started off again in silence. Keeping his eyes to the road, he jogged ahead a few steps, looked down again and motioned us forward. Hand in hand, Jean-Claude and I followed.

We continued on like this for another five miles or so, then I felt Jean-Claude release my hand. He stopped walking and looked up and around slowly. I noticed Jason had stopped as well and was pacing a small circle around the bottom of a fire escape.

“He’s close,” Jason whispered breathily as I hurried over to him. “The scent goes up here and look.” He pointed to a smear of blood on the fire escape’s railing. “He’s bleeding bad now.”

I belatedly wondered what had happened to the silver serving fork Theresa Mermalone had attacked Aristide with. It suddenly seemed plausible that Aristide still had it in him. Maybe he couldn’t reach it to get it out of him if she’d stabbed it into his back between his shoulder blades. I’m certain if he’d seen her about to stab him, she wouldn’t have been able to because he would have stopped her. It made sense that the wound was in his back. It was no wonder he was bleeding even more now. He was running around with a silver fork sticking out of him.

Jean-Claude walked up to us. “Blood,” he said simply.

I looked at him quizzically. “Aristide’s blood?”

“No,” he answered with a shake of his head. “This is new blood I smell. Human blood. He’s made another kill. He’s feeding somewhere. Somewhere very close.” He locked his eyes on mine. “My guess is he’s taken his prey up to the roof to get off the streets. You’d do well to head up.”

“Let me go with her,” Jason almost pleaded. “We can’t just send her up there alone.” He looked at Jean-Claude solemnly.

Placing his hands on either side of the young wolf’s face, Jean-Claude ran his fingers through his short, spikey hair in a soothing gesture. “Do not worry about ma petite,” he said in a soft, whispery voice. “She’s the most capable woman I’ve ever known and considering I’ve known thousands, that is saying quite a lot. This is only a ploy to draw Aristide’s attention, mon ami. We will be close. He will not be allowed to get away with doing anything to her. You have my word.”

Jason seemed to find solace in Jean-Claude’s words. He bowed his head and murmured something under his breath that made Jean-Claude smile and brush his lips across his brow. The vampire released him and turned to face me.

“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” I told him. “It sure as hell was hard won, but better late than never.”

Jean-Claude drew me into his arms. “I never doubted your abilities, ma petite,” he said with a sigh. “Though knowing you’re able seems to have no influence on my unwillingness to let you expose yourself to certain danger. We made a deal however and I find myself with little choice in the matter. Just, please, be careful.”

I nuzzled my face against the soft silkiness of his shirt and gave him a hug. “I will,” I assured him. Pulling away from Jean-Claude I faced Jason. “I promise.”

With that, I hoisted myself onto the fire escape and started my long climb up. Ten flights at least from what I could see. I only hoped after getting to the top I wouldn’t be too late. There were some efforts that were just too laborious to be made in vain.





CHAPTER SIXTEEN~ Aristide, I Presume


There wasn’t much by way of light this high up. It was overcast enough tonight so the three-quarter moon wasn’t visible. The illumination from the streetlight directly below me didn’t reach any farther than the edges of the building. I couldn’t help thinking this would be a good roof to throw yourself off of if you wanted to do yourself in. It was dark and secluded and nice and high. Are you listening, Aristide?

I had to stop once I’d reached the top and let my eyes adjust better to the lack of light. The whirring of the roof ventilators was masking any telltale sound I might have heard. Not only was I walking into this blind, I was pretty near deaf and dumb too. After a few moments, the systems shut down and an eerie silence seemed to descend. It made me wonder if I screamed, how long would it take Jean-Claude and Jason to come to my aid? Not that I honestly believed it would come to that, but sometimes you just can’t help being a girl.

Down to business. I drew my trusty Browning and made sure it was ready to fire when I needed it. I quickly double-checked my personal arsenal which includes my other gun, a Firestar, two small throwing knives--which I normally had strapped to my wrists, and a larger knife made of silver that I kept at my hip. The heat had forced me to rearrange things in order to keep them concealed considering I wasn’t wearing anything more than jeans and a button-down cotton shirt.

Just touching these weapons made me feel more confident despite the lack of visibility. I started forward, straining to hear something, all the while hoping Jean-Claude was right about Aristide being up here. I was tired of this cat and mouse game. If Aristide had simply wanted to end his existence, why go to all the trouble of making us chase him down? Why didn’t he just surrender? I didn’t understand that part of all this and in a way hoped I’d get the chance to ask the murdering sonofabitch vampire to explain his motives before everything went down.

Nature graciously lent me a hand after a few tense minutes, and the clouds rolled back just enough to let a little moonlight through. Immediately out of the corner of my eye I spied movement to my left and turned my gun in that direction. It was the glow of the vampire’s eyes that really gave him away however. As I drew nearer, I could make out the shape of a man in front of him, lying limply in his arms. Aristide’s mouth was still fastened to his neck and at first, he appeared to be too busy feeding on the man he’d caught to notice me. I crept closer, aiming the sites of my gun directly between those two glowing eyes.

Something seemed to alert him to my presence however, and he suddenly looked up. I could see the glaze of pain and madness through the supernatural shine of his golden-colored eyes as soon as he looked at me and remembered Jason talking about how a cornered, wounded animal reacts. For a moment, Aristide looked like he was coiling his strength to launch some kind of mindless attack, but then, as if recognizing me, he unceremoniously dropped the man he’d been feeding from on to the ground, and wiped the blood from his mouth with the back of his hand.

“Well, I’ll be damned. Look who it is,” he said more to himself I think, but loud enough for me to hear. His accent was heavy as if he really hadn‘t been speaking English long. His voice was youthful-sounding, somewhat high-pitched, but also breathy and sexy. It didn’t fit him.

“You are damned,” I said sarcastically back to him. I offered him a waning smile. He stared back at me for a moment, not moving or saying anything further. I took the opportunity to study him awhile, thinking he didn’t look at all like the vampire in Jean-Claude’s memory except for the face. Of course that was four hundred-some years ago. Vampires weren’t supposed to age past the day they were turned, but maybe, depending on the life they lead, did. That Aristide had long, wavy brown hair, large, soft brown eyes, a fresh, paunchy boyish face, and creamy white skin. This Aristide had spikey, greasy-looking hair, a pallid, drawn face, and wild red-rimmed eyes. The white sleeveless tee-shirt he was wearing had definitely seen better days. Even in the dimming moonlight, I could see the dirt and smears of blood, as well as the tear just below the collar.

Not surprisingly, he wore a gold serpentine slave bracelet on his left bicep, confirming the fact that he had indeed been Death Fantasy For One. Most likely, the woman Jason had spoken to on the phone was Theresa Mermalone.

I also noticed Aristide was wearing tight leather pants and a silver-colored studded belt with a small cell phone attached to it with a clip. He had a tattoo on his neck that reminded me of the Bacardi rum bat as well as having several gold earrings in each of his ears. So much for the archaic vampire theory. I swallowed down my repulsion and cleared my throat, raising my Browning just a hair.

“Aristide, I presume?”

The vampire froze for a moment, then bent at the waist in a low, but stilted bow. I had been right; there was the handle of a fork sticking out of his back between his shoulder blades at an odd angle. It looked as if he‘d tried unsuccessfully to remove it at one time and only managed to embed it deeper into his flesh. The entire back of his white shirt was stained wet with his blood.

“You presume correctly, Mademoiselle Blake,” he said and straightened.

I gestured at the man lying at his feet. “Is he dead?”

Aristide looked down momentarily and shrugged. “Fuck, you know, I don’t know. I don’t think so. I’d just bitten into him when you arrived.”

One thing was for sure, if I didn’t get some pressure put on the poor man’s neck wounds, he’d bleed to death just lying there. I chewed my bottom lip a moment, thinking.

“Can I have him?” I asked Aristide. “If I don’t help him, he will die.”

Aristide tried to look shocked. “And we wouldn’t want that, would we, ma petite?”

My eyes shot up to his with a glowering look of warning. “Don’t call me that,” I growled. “You’re in enough damn trouble as it is. Don’t piss me off, Aristide.”

He laughed then. It crawled up my spine, but not pleasantly. I threw up my shields, fending off his influence as best I could. He bent down again and grabbed the unconscious man by the arm.

“Here, take him,” Aristide said, more or less tossing him at me.

I dodged the body, having to leap back so it didn’t collide with my legs and bowl me over. I knew right then and there the man was already dead and remembered, too late, that Jean-Claude had specifically said Aristide had made another kill. My bad.

I only realized the full extent of my mistake however when I looked up and saw Aristide had a handgun of his own, a police service revolver, and was pointing it right at me. He looked absolutely delighted by my surprise.

“I relieved a cop of this little number before I left home this evening,” he stated. “I thought it might make things more interesting if I had a gun too. I know you won’t be easy to overpower without one. I know some of the strongest fucking vampires in the world have fallen at your feet. I intend to join those esteemed ranks, cherie, but not before we have a little fun first.”

Keeping my Browning trained where it was, I took a breath and shook my head slightly. Vampires with guns. What the hell was this world coming to?

“You know, that’s the one thing I don’t get about all this, Aristide,” I began. “If you want to be killed, why not just go outside and wait for the sunrise, or throw yourself onto a picket fence somewhere in the suburbs? At the very least, you could have gone to Jean-Claude and told him to kill you. Or me for that matter.”

Aristide’s humor vanished from his expression at the mention of Jean-Claude’s name. I could feel his power moving, swirling around us like a sudden summer breeze. “Would that be anyway to die? These women who gave themselves to me, they understood about dying. You can fucking live your life, but sometimes it doesn’t turn out the way you planned. It’s out of your control. But you can take back that control with your death. Think about the way you want to die and then fucking do it. It’s a little something I specialize in called The Death Fantasy.”

I narrowed my eyes at him, trying not to think of how my arm was beginning to ache. What he was saying sounded preposterous considering the evidence we had against him, but he had said it so sincerely, it honestly made me rethink what I had originally believed. “You mean to tell me that the women you killed wanted to die? Little fifteen year-old Cynthia Morris too? You really were just helping them commit suicide?”

“Oh oui,” Aristide replied. “They came to me, not the other way around. They all wanted to die the way I killed them. Just like I want to die the way you will kill me. This is my Death Fantasy, ma cherie. I’ve lost control of my existence you see. So I planned my death instead. In death I’ve been granted what I would not have been allowed in life.” He paused and smiled at me, showing a mouthful of pointy white teeth. “That would be you, ma petite.”

Shaking my head, I inched back a step. “I think you misunderstood my intentions here tonight, Aristide.”

“I don’t think so,” he responded with a little twitch of his head. “I have everything planned. Right down to this very moment.”

“Was killing Theresa Mermalone part of your plan?” I asked more or less to stall him.

He looked sad for a moment, then shrugged his sorrow off like a worn blanket. “No. Theresa’s death was an unfortunate turn of events. I wasn’t thinking she’d fucking turn on me, the bitch. I had to kill her, but she wasn’t part of the plan. Neither was this….” He gestured behind him, no doubt referring to the fork in his back. “The pain is nasty and I’ve been bleeding like a stuck pig ever since. It made me easy to find, non? The young wolf could smell my blood. He led you right to me.”

My hand was starting to shake a little from strain. “So you know Jean-Claude and Jason are here with me?” I couldn’t help but notice Aristide’s hand had yet to quiver once. He could probably hold the gun steady for hours without showing any fatigue.

“It was Jean-Claude who sent you to me, correct? I know him. He’s so riddled with guilt now, he’s finally given you to me to try to make amends--to appease my wounded pride so I’ll stop this rampage that I’m on.”

“Jean-Claude sent me to kill you,” I growled back.

Aristide shook his head slowly. “Don’t even try lying, ma petite. You’re horrible at it. Non. Jean-Claude does not want me dead. I know this for a fact.”

Maybe it was the steadfast confidence in his voice, but I actually found myself believing him. Still, I wasn’t about to let him know I was doubting myself. “Actually, you’re right about that. But the only reason Jean-Claude doesn’t want you dead is because it would give you what you want. He has other plans for you than killing you. Why do you think I haven’t killed you yet? I’m just supposed to detain you until our reinforcements arrive. Believe me, I could have killed you the moment I laid eyes on you.”

Now Aristide laughed. It was that same, creepy, skin-tingling laugh and this time it made me visibly shudder. “Is that what he told you? He doesn’t want me dead because deep down inside, he’s still in love with me. Of course he won’t admit such a thing to you, his pugnacious concubine, but it’s true. You know I’m telling the truth. He feels he owes me for what I‘ve done for him in the past. You see, I was there for him when his beloved Asher had cast him aside. I freed him, you know. Brought him to my rooms and sheltered him there. I held him and let him cry on my shoulder until my shirts were stained red with his tears. I loved him in the deep, dark night when no one else would have him. He couldn‘t help but fall in love with me, you see. He loves me still.”

For a minute, I was actually feeling confused. What Jean-Claude had told me had made perfect sense at the time and I had bought his reasoning hook, line, and sinker, but from what Aristide was saying now, the truth had somehow been twisted. Was it so hard to believe Jean-Claude still harbored feelings for this creature? After all, hadn’t he harbored feelings for Asher even when they were arch enemies? Aristide was probably right about all this. It had been Jean-Claude’s idea to keep Aristide alive. It had been Jean-Claude’s idea to send me up here alone. Maybe Jean-Claude really was giving me to Aristide.

My anger was too fast to rise and my confusion as to what the real truth was seemed almost unnatural in some respects. I stared up at Aristide and suddenly I knew. He’d gotten through to me. He’d made everything he had said sound perfectly honest. The ease at which he’d done it was frightening. Jean-Claude had warned me about his power but I’d been sure of myself since I was the one with all the guns. At least, I had been. My finger twitched, but I didn’t pull it. Not yet.

Jean-Claude! Let me kill him! He’s got me in a stand-off here and I can’t hold out much longer. He’s influencing me and making me really, really pissed at you. I need to kill him! Let me kill him--

No! Jean-Claude answered in my mind. He’s simply taunting you! Don’t give in to him. Asher and Damian are on the way, ma petite. If you can keep him there a little longer we’ll be able to surround him and take him by surprise. For now, lower your shields and I will help you resist him.

Lower my shields? Was he crazy? Keeping my shields in place was the only thing saving me from being completely overtaken. But then…maybe that’s what Jean-Claude wanted. Maybe that’s what he’d intended all along. After all, I was his servant, wasn’t I? He’d said himself it was customary for servants to be lent out to others as rewards and such. Even Asher had lent out his beloved Julianna on occasion; what made me think Jean-Claude’s way of thinking was any different? Of course he’d been oh-so-sneaky about it. Arranging all this so I wouldn’t accuse him of using me, the lech!

Ma petite! Ma petite! Listen to me! Kill--

Get out of my head, you sonofabitch! And while you’re at it, stay the fuck out of my life!

With that, I closed the marks down completely, imagining my shields like a reinforced concrete wall surrounding me the size of a fortress.

“Put the gun down, ma petite, and come to me,” Aristide said in his super slinky voice. “Let’s go somewhere nice and quiet, away from this place, and we’ll discuss the details of what’s to come next.”

I found myself nodding, lowering my aching arm. It just made sense. Right now, I wanted to know the truth and I knew Aristide would tell me. He’d been nothing but honest with me from the start. I took a step forward on legs that felt like they were weighted down with lead.

“Come to me, ma petite. Tu est tres belle.”

I let the Browning slip from my hand. It fell and landed on the roof with a loud whoosh and a thump. Strange for what was a relatively small handgun. I just didn’t want to hold it anymore. Actually, I didn’t really feel the need. With the release of the gun, I was able to fight off whatever force had been holding me back. I noticed, the closer I got to Aristide, the lighter I felt. It was as if he was helping me, strengthening me. I drifted to him as if in a dream, reaching his outstretched hand.

A small part of me screamed at the touch of his hand on my throat, but his fingertips smoothed down my skin like a lover’s sweet caress and I envisioned slamming a door on those strange unsubstantiated fears. Aristide nuzzled my cheek, pulling me closer to him, and teased my mouth with his lips.

“Kiss me, ma petite,” he whispered, pressing the barrel of the gun to my temple. “Let the Fantasy begin.”

It was as if an axe had been smashed into my door of defense suddenly and all my fears came streaming back into my mind. I saw a vision flash through my mind of Jean-Claude wielding the axe. His shirt was open and billowing in a debris-filled wind. His long hair was whipping around his face and chest as if he were out in a storm trying to fight his way inside. Finally, he raised the axe again and brought it down heavily on the door, splitting the thick wood into pieces. On the other side of that smashed door, I cowered at the sight of him; then realized it wasn’t him I was afraid of, but the wrongness of this scenario.

I blinked and shook my head to clear my mind of the vision. I opened my eyes and now saw Jean-Claude actually circling us, his dark eyes ablaze with rage. My reinforced shields were crumbling further at the sight of him and I wondered why I was in Aristide’s arms and not his. I didn’t really remember going to him. I knew I hadn’t lost time. Then I heard Jean-Claude’s voice, and at first thought he was speaking again in my mind, but it rumbled in the night air like deadly thunder and cut into my senses like the lash of a whip.

“Let her go.”

The cry of an animal echoed suddenly in my ears and I turned to face the eerie sound. I saw Jason loping towards us. He’d shifted and was in the form of an enormous wolf. His eyes caught the reflection of the moon and the light seemed to shine at me from inside his skull. My fortress was cracking at its foundations now. Considering I had walled myself up with Aristide against Jean-Claude, the fact that it was crumbling was a good thing.

I twisted around, putting my back against Aristide, and tried to push myself away from him. I felt the barrel of his revolver pressing harder against my head and felt Aristide’s arm tighten around me in an almost suffocating grip.

“Aristide!” Jean-Claude seethed. “Let her go now!”

Jean-Claude must have done something to Aristide when he didn’t readily comply because abruptly the vampire holding me screamed in out right agony and lowered the gun. For a moment, I actually thought Aristide was obeying Jean-Claude and releasing me, but then I saw the revolver level off in Jason’s direction.

“Do that again and your wolf dies,” Aristide panted back. He bent his head over my shoulder and grasped my arm, wrenching it behind my back. “That goes for you too, ma petite. Try anything and the wolf gets a mouthful of silver.”

My heart sunk. All the judo and other self-defensive moves I’d perfected throughout the years that I was just about to try went right out the proverbial window when he said that. Of course. The police all carried silver bullets now. It was something I had pushed for. I even supplied the funding to get the program started. How ironic such a thing designed to save the lives of innocent men and women was now threatening someone I adored.

I turned my head to look up at Aristide and was shocked by what I saw. It was as if he’d aged fifty years and the years hadn’t been kind to him. Obviously, Jean-Claude had drawn away some of his lifeforce--taken back some of the power which Aristide thrived from. I remembered Belle Morte doing something ten times worse to Asher when Musette had visited and I knew Jean-Claude could kill Aristide this way if he took enough of his lifeforce from him.

Why didn’t you let me kill him when I had the chance? I shot telepathically to Jean-Claude. Don’t hurt him again or he’ll shoot Jason!

I tried to tell you to just kill him, but you shut me out of your mind, Jean-Claude protested back to me. Why didn’t you tell me he had a gun? This complicates things more than you could know, ma petite.

I cringed inwardly. Please don’t call me that! I answered and caught the puzzled look on his face. Look, I’ll explain later. Right now, we need a distraction.

Jason snarled and gnashed his teeth, startling me. He looked like he was getting ready to attack. The thick gray fur along his back was standing on end and his ears were pinned flat against his broad skull. His growl was so deep and guttural, it made my bones resonate. I prayed he wouldn’t move and was just about to actually tell him to stay put when Aristide lowered the gun a little and suddenly squeezed the trigger.

The shot was so deafening I couldn’t even hear myself scream. I saw Jason struck and go down, blood spurting from his hind leg in a wide arching spray. The werewolf screamed something not quite human-sounding; not quite animal-sounding but heart wrenching all the same. My eyes flitted from Jean-Claude’s to Jason and back to Jean-Claude again.

I watched as Jean-Claude moved closer to us, approaching Aristide, coming to stand directly between us and Jason. The glow in Jean-Claude’s eyes had dimmed. Despite what had just happened, he looked calmer and much more collected than he had earlier. He had schooled his expression into something void of emotion that only told me he was getting more emotional. It made me wonder what he was up to.








“That was unnecessary, Aristide,” Jean-Claude said as nonchalantly as if he were scolding an errant child for using bad language or something.

Aristide swung the gun around and pointed it at Jean-Claude now. “I thought it was,” he replied in a single released breath of air. “I was feeling out-numbered.”

“In a very short time, you will be out-numbered again, mon ami,” Jean-Claude told him. “Do you intend to shoot us all? Is that what you want?”

Aristide shook his head. “I want my fucking Death Fantasy, Jean-Claude.” He paused and twisted my arm harder, making me wince. “I know I’m going to be killed for what I’ve done and what I’m about to do, but you know, I want it that way. I want this to be over, I really do. In time, I’ll let ma petite kill me anyway she likes, but not until I’ve had my way with her. It’s all part of my plan you see. A way to slap you across the face for treating me like fucking filth after all I’ve done for you. And what better way to die than buried hilt-deep between the thighs of a beautiful woman, eh?” He laughed again making my skin itch, but he also gave me an idea. I was beginning to agree with Jean-Claude and Asher. Death was too good for this bastard.

“If that’s all you want, then let’s get to it, shall we?” I rumbled up at him over my shoulder. “The sooner the better.” I started unbuttoning my shirt, trying not to think of Jason lying just behind Jean-Claude in a rapidly expanding pool of blood. “Come on, Aristide. How do you want me?”

Aristide looked stunned momentarily, and then let out a bellowing laugh. “Is she always like this?” he asked Jean-Claude. “No wonder you fucking adore her!”

I glared up at Aristide. “If you let my arm go, I can get undressed a hell of a lot faster.”

Aristide shook his head. “I’m not in that big a rush, ma petite.” He dipped his head and pressed a kiss to the side of my face. The touch of his lips made my insides lurch. “Let’s get better acquainted first, shall we?”

He continued kissing me, running his mouth up and down my neck and face. I was thankful I had fed the ardeur with Jean-Claude earlier tonight or I would have been climbing up Aristide’s slimy body right about now. It was nice for a change to have my wits about me in the face of circumstances like these for a change.

Aristide did release my arm, but pressed me so tightly against him I still couldn’t wrench it free. He kept the gun trained on Jean-Claude as he dragged his hand up my torso, slipping his fingers into my open shirt and rubbing his palms over my bra.

I tried not to squirm away and did a mental inventory of where my remaining weapons were located again. I glanced up at Jean-Claude, amazed he was actually going to let me do this. Maybe he knew I was going to kill this bastard long before he got “hilt-deep” in me and was okay with distracting him this way.

His arms were crossed over his chest and he rested his chin on one of his palms, laying his index finger against his cheek. It was a very thoughtful-looking pose and totally inappropriate considering what I was being subjected to at the moment. His beautiful face remained unchanged as he watched Aristide continue to molest me.

Finally he spoke. His voice was like melted, dark chocolate, rich and thick and ultra luxurious. He was pouring his power into it, making it rub against my skin like the softest of cashmere. I’m sure Aristide felt it too because he paused in his assault on my neck and looked up.

“Is this the best Death Fantasy you could come up with, mon ami?” Jean-Claude all but purred. “You, the master of the Death Fantasy! Granted it was an elaborate scheme altogether, but ending it this way is rather…um…anti-climatic, don’t you think?”

As if suspecting Jean-Claude was up to something as well, Aristide turned the gun he was holding back on me. Jean-Claude stepped closer and I heard the gun’s mechanisms clicking as Aristide readied the chamber with a fresh bullet.

“This is what I wanted,” Aristide grumbled. “I’ve given it a lot of thought.”

Jean-Claude froze, but it was the only thing he did to betray his on-going fears that Aristide might harm me. His eyes took on a seductive sheen and he pursed his full lips in an attractive pout that even I found a little distracting.

“Isn‘t there someone you want more than her?” Jean-Claude said and slowly smoothed his hands down the front of his body down to the tops of his thighs. With a shake of his head, he tossed his hair from his eyes, but a few stray locks fell right back over his face. He fastened his eyes on Aristide, peering at him through those glossy black curls and then smiled knowingly.

I could feel Aristide’s breath catch slightly. Against my lower back, I could feel the press of his hardening erection and knew without a doubt, there was someone he’d much rather have than me. I knew what Jean-Claude was doing now and tried my best to play along.

“What’s taking so long, Aristide? Don’t you even like girls?”

His hand was at my throat in an instant and I heard the hiss of his breath in my ear. “You’re a bitch, do you know that?” He jabbed the end of the gun bruisingly into my skin. He seemed to calm a bit as soon as he refocused his attention back on Jean-Claude however. “You would do that for me, cheri?”

Jean-Claude nodded somewhat mechanically. “It is the very least I could do, mon ami. I will give you a Death Fantasy beyond your wildest dreams. You will die with my kiss upon your lips. Your hands will touch my body, and I will submit my passion to your every whim.” He paused and took a moment to pass his tongue over his curvy upper lip. “We will be together one last time before your body goes down in flames. You will be consumed with desire, I promise you. Is this not a better way to go?”

Apparently yes, because in the blink of an eye, I was shoved forward so hard I nearly fell at Jean-Claude’s feet. In turn, Aristide reached out and snatched Jean-Claude from in front of me so fast it was like he suddenly disappeared. He was already caught up in Aristide’s arms when I turned my head. The gun was now pressed against Jean-Claude’s temple, the tip of the barrel lost in his thick black hair.

Aristide seemed to have forgotten all about me. A good thing. He was too busy groping Jean-Claude to have cared what I was up to. Jean-Claude hadn’t forgotten about me however, or Jason for that matter. He was all about buying us more time.

Tend to Jason, Anita! He said in my mind. If you don’t get that bullet out of him, he’ll bleed to death. He must be allowed to heal!

I was way ahead of him however, crawling more or less over to the collapsed werewolf, collecting my discarded Browning on the way. Jason locked his eyes on mine and opened his mouth to pant through his pain.

“You’re going to be all right,” I whispered, pulling one of my small knives from its sheath at my hip. “You’re going to have to let me dig the bullet out of your leg, Jason. I know it’s going to hurt like hell, but if you attack me, we’re both goners. Do you understand?”

Jason raised his head slightly and then let if fall heavily back to the asphalt with a whimper of despair. I wasn’t sure if that was a sign that he understood me or not. I couldn’t get his wounded animal reference out of my head and to make matters worse, he growled at me the moment I touched his shattered leg.

“Jason, please,” I begged him. “Don’t do this to me.” I was having enough problems concentrating as it is knowing just twenty feet away, my boyfriend was about to be raped at gunpoint by a psychopathic vampire who fantasized regularly about death.

Almost as if knowing I was thinking about him, Jean-Claude spoke to me in my head. Don’t worry about me, he said flatly. Jason is the one who needs your attention now.

I knew Jean-Claude possessed an adept ability to detach himself mentally from any physical circumstance he happened to be in and this was clearly another demonstration of his power. Knowing he was doing that helped, but I still had Jason to worry about. I licked my lips apprehensively. I’m not sure he’s going to let me do this, Jean-Claude. He’s growling at me and I haven’t really done anything to him yet.

I’ll have to take his mind, Jean-Claude replied to me. Do what you have to do quickly, Anita. We are running out of time.

I nodded even though I doubted he saw me. Fixing my eyes on Jason’s I watched as a look of painless calm soon dimmed their fire. His lids closed and his long tongue lolled out the side of his mouth limply. His breathing grew steady and even and I knew at that point, he was well under Jean-Claude’s power.

I immediately got to work, delving my fingers into the wound and feeling around the best I could. I used the knife to go deeper into Jason’s ruined flesh, pouring my own power into him to help heal the damage that had been done. I found the bullet lodged in his hip bone and dug it out with the tip of the knife. My hands were slick and wet with his blood now, but I managed to grab the slug and pull it out. Quickly, as if it was burning my fingers, I threw it aside and wiped my sticky hands on my jeans.

“Please heal,” I whispered into Jason’s ear. “Please be all right.” I bit my lower lip, knowing it was going to take a little more than my impromptu surgery to make Jason better. He needed his own kind now. He needed Richard and the pack’s healing powers.

Opening the marks, I called out to Richard, letting him feel my fear, my anxiety, and my own pain.


I could see him in my mind now. He turned and faced me with a worried look of his own. Anita? What is it?

It’s Jason! He’s been shot. I got the bullet out, but he needs the pack. You have to come for him. You have to help him.

Richard ran his hand through his hair as if in frustration. I didn’t want it to be like this, he went on. I didn’t want you to turn to me only when things go wrong.

That was all fine and good, but why the hell was he getting into that now? Richard, did you hear me? Jason’s been shot. I need your help! I don’t care what you think Jean-Claude and I have done to you this time, but this is your pack we’re talking about. Either you help him or I swear I’ll never speak to you again.

Relax, Anita. We’re on the way, Richard answered. You’re right about one thing, Jason is pack and the pack takes care of it’s own. It wouldn’t matter what you and Jean-Claude have done against me, because I’m not doing this for either of you, I’m doing this for Jason. Just keep that in mind.

Fine. Whatever. I really don’t give a flying flip what reasons get your ass over here, just as long as you’re coming. Do it for Jason. To hell with me.

With that, I closed down the marks to keep from having to listen to Richard grumble anymore and turned my attention to the last remaining issue I had left to resolve. I climbed to my feet, clutching the Browning in both hands and started towards Aristide.

Luckily, not much had happened since I’d left him. He had Jean-Claude pinned against one of the massive air conditioning units and was kissing the side of his face with a visible savor. The gun was jammed beneath Jean-Claude’s chin, forcing his head back in an uncomfortable angle. Jean-Claude looked at me and rolled his eyes, not at all happy about having to be in his present situation, but clearly willing to tolerate it for the time being.

How is Jason? he asked me. His concern was evident even in my mind.

I called Richard. He’s coming to get him. He needs the pack now to heal him. He’s lost a lot of blood.

Jean-Claude gestured at Aristide with his eyes. I do not believe we will be able to take him alive as we originally intended, Anita. Asher has yet to arrive with Damian and Aristide’s demands on me are growing more insistent with each passing minute. I truly did not want to submit myself to his desire, but I fear if we don’t do something soon, I will be forced to.

You can’t! I snarled in reply, suddenly furious at this unexpected turn of events. You’ll be giving him exactly what he wants if you do: his dream Death Fantasy. Well, I’m not about to stand idlely by and let him rape you in front of me. Think of something else!

Anita, if this has anything to do with those puritan morals of yours….

It has nothing to do with morals and everything to do with justice! I’ll be damned if we cater to his every whim like this and grant him his one last dying wish. You and Asher were right about not killing him. He needs to be punished for what he’s done and I swear I’m going to see him punished.

Aristide suddenly ripped Jean-Claude’s shirt open and yanked it off his shoulder. He lowered his head and bared his teeth just before sinking them deep into Jean-Claude’s flesh. Jean-Claude jerked and shuddered visibly then turned his eyes fully on me.

If you do not want to watch me be violated any further but still insist on keeping this creature alive for justice’s sake, I suggest you come up with plan, ma pet--my little one.

I watched two thin lines of red stream down Jean-Claude’s shoulder out from underneath Aristide’s mouth and spill onto the crisp whiteness of his torn shirt. I saw Aristide’s hand slide over Jean-Claude’s hip and down his inner thigh. It made me want to scream.

Kiss him! I practically yelled in Jean-Claude’s mind. Kiss him to distract him! If you can get him to drop the gun and hold his head steady, I’ll shoot him.

Jean-Claude flashed a smile at me. I was not aware you deem my kisses so distracting.

I had to smile too. It always amazed me how Jean-Claude continued to be taken aback by any compliments I threw his way. Especially after all our years together. You know they are, I chided him and raised my Browning to the level of Aristide’s head. They’re so distracting, Aristide won’t know what hit him.

I crept closer, watching Jean-Claude turn his full power of seduction on the hapless Aristide. His hands trailed up his arms, past his shoulders to his head. He wrenched Aristide’s teeth out of his flesh and drew him up, locking his eyes on his, holding him completely captive with his gaze. I watched his full lips part and touch Aristide’s teasingly. Aristide slowly lowered the gun from Jean-Claude’s jaw and leaned forward to kiss him back. Their mouths crashed and ground together hungrily as if they were drawing sustenance to survive from each other’s blood-smeared lips.

The air conditioning unit Aristide and Jean-Claude were up against whirred to life suddenly, drowning out any sound within a mile radius most likely, but they were so literally wrapped up in each other now, they didn’t even seem to notice. I saw the air exchange blow Jean-Claude’s tattered shirt and hair, catching the ends in his bleeding wounds and whipping the blood around the rooftop. Forensics would have a field day up here, I thought to myself, trying to keep my mind off the fact that I was about to kill a vampire without the proper documents on file. The police would never know what transpired on this roof tonight however. I wouldn’t be credited for this kill and most likely, that conflict of interest talk would continue as long as I was sleeping with Jean-Claude, but at this point, I really didn’t care about any of that.

Jean-Claude’s hand moved stealthily down the other vampire’s arm and encircled the grip of the gun over Aristide’s fingers. He tugged at it and Aristide readily surrendered it to him, wanting to touch Jean-Claude with both hands instead of holding onto a weapon he clearly thought he no longer needed. My heart actually went out to him for a moment. Unrequited love was always tragic no matter what the circumstance.

The gun fell to the ground just as the air conditioning unit shut down. I heard it fall with a loud swoosh and a thump and realized this time, that wasn’t the sound of the gun at all. I turned my head in the direction I believed it came from and sure enough, there was Asher striding towards the three of us with nothing short of murder in his eyes. Damian landed just behind him along with two other vampires in Jean-Claude’s kiss whom I recognized but couldn’t remember their names off-hand. I couldn’t help but notice the two new vampires were ladened down with heavy silver shackles.

“Asher wait!” I yelled, darting towards him. I knew Aristide was unarmed now, but I still didn’t want Asher doing anything stupid and getting Jean-Claude hurt.

To my further amazement tonight, Asher drew a gun and pointed it right at Aristide’s head. I recognized it immediately as the one he had the night we freed Damian. Vampires with guns, I thought to myself again. What was this world coming to?

“Take your hands off of him!” Asher hissed, showing fangs.

As if truly startled by Asher’s command, Aristide pulled away from Jean-Claude’s mouth and looked around wildly at the vampires suddenly surrounding him on all sides. He faced Jean-Claude again and started shaking his head.

“Non, mon cheri. This is not the way the Fantasy goes,” he lamented. “Remember? One last time, I get to hold you in my arms and make love to you, and then, only then, will I let myself be killed.” He eyed the chains the new vampires were carrying warily. “What the hell is this? You have no intention of killing me at all do you? I thought we agreed, Jean-Claude. And when you kissed me just now…the way you kissed me.” He paused for a moment as if thinking, then peered down at the gun he had discarded in the throes of his desire. “Master. You betrayed me with your kiss.”

There was something biblical about the way Aristide had said that which made me shiver despite the night’s oppressive heat. It brought to mind my Sunday school teacher telling me that I needed to be careful because even the Devil could quote scripture.

The vampires bearing the chains moved a little closer. Jean-Claude reached up and smoothed Aristide’s disheveled hair back from his face.

“You have forced my hand, Aristide,” he said in a soft, quiet voice. “You must be punished.”

Aristide turned his head and faced me. “Kill me please. It’s all I ever really wanted. To die in a way I was never able to live. As if I actually mattered.”

“But you did not choose to live that way,” Jean-Claude continued, his voice rising a notch. “I would have given you anything, Aristide. I welcomed you into my lands with open arms. Yet you chose to want the two things I simply could not give you and because of that you turned against me and concocted a distorted version of your own Death Fantasy. It was never meant to be, my friend.” Jean-Claude gestured at the vampires with the chains. “Take him.”

Aristide screamed and lunged at Jean-Claude. I pulled the trigger and fired, hitting Aristide in the shoulder. Simultaneously, Asher shot him in the leg, forcing him down to the ground in a crumpled heap. The chain-weilding vampires descended on him like vultures on a fresh carcass, fastening the shackles to Aristide’s ankles and wrists, muffling his cries with the clinking of the metal.

I saw Damian then. He strode up to Aristide and reached behind him. He forcibly removed the serving fork from his back only to plunge it unexpectedly into Aristide’s stomach.

“That, is for Cynthia Morris,” Damian growled. He spat on him and turned away from the screaming vampire at his feet.

I lowered my gun and re-holstered it, taking a deep cleansing breath. Vampire justice at it’s worse. I too turned away from Aristide and his captors just as Damian approached me with a worried look on his face.

“Are you all right?” he asked, running his hand down the length of my arm to supernaturally sense anything that might be amiss.

I nodded. “I’m fine,” I told him, feeling the weight from the tension of the past few hours bearing down on me now that I had the opportunity to acknowledge it. Damian put his arm around my shoulder and gave me a little squeeze.

“You need to go home,” he said quietly, leaning over to kiss the top of my head. “You need sleep.”

“No. Not until I know about Jason,” I countered, shooting the downed werewolf an anxious look. I turned around and fixed my eyes on Aristide as his captors hauled him to his feet and started dragging him away. “And not until I see that bastard sealed up behind a wall of crosses and chains.”

Damian left me to kneel at Jason’s side. He put his hand on the wolf shoulder, running his fingers through the thick pelt of gray fur. “He will be fine, Anita, I can easily promise you that.” Damian’s fingers tentatively touched the blood-matted fur on Jason’s hip. “Look. The wound is already closed. Jason just needs rest now. He’ll be all right.” He peered up at me. “Let me take you home. You look like you’re about ready to fall over.”

I knelt beside him and shook my head again, running my hand over Jason’s head. I couldn’t leave him now. Not until I knew for sure there wasn’t anything else I could do for him.

“Please listen to Damian, ma pet--Anita,” Jean-Claude said making his way over to us with Asher close behind him. “There is nothing else you can do for Jason now. Or any of us. You need to go home and rest. Take care of yourself tonight.”

I looked up at him. The bite mark on his shoulder was already fading. The blood was drying on his skin and cracking off in little flakes on his torn shirt. He didn’t really need me anymore tonight either. Asher would take him home and see that he got bathed and given a change of clothes. Asher would hold him and comfort him in the hour before dawn and together the two master vampires would slip into their mystical state of passing entwined in each other’s arms.

“You can call me ‘ma petite’ again,” I told Jean-Claude. “It’s just that, when Aristide was touching my mind, he kept calling me that too. It wasn’t used in the same context of affection that you use it in, but I just needed not to be called that for a while. You understand, don’t you?”

Jean-Claude nodded. “Absolutely, ma petite. I just now told Asher not to address me as ‘cheri’ for a few nights. Basically for the same reasons.”

I raised my brow. “I wasn’t aware Asher called you ‘cheri’, Jean-Claude,” I teasingly replied.

Jean-Claude and Asher exchanged rather guilty looks. Asher turned to me and smiled rather devilishly.

“Perhaps you were also not aware that when I said, ‘take your hands off of him’, I was actually addressing Jean-Claude.”

I laughed lightly. “No, I wasn’t aware of that.” I knew Asher was only trying to lighten the moment and let me know everything was going to be all right now. I peered up at him and smiled with open adoration.

Jean-Claude dropped to his knees beside me and took my hands in his. His expression grew more solemn as he gazed into my eyes. “Please, go home now. Let us take care of this. Don’t concern yourself with him anymore. It is over, ma petite. It is finished. Aristide will not harm another living being. Asher and I will see to that. You do not have to.”

I lowered my eyes to our tightly inter-laced hands. “I won’t stop you, if that is what you are afraid of.”

Jean-Claude shook his head. He released one of my hands so he could raise my chin. “It is not that,” he murmured. “It is just that it is not the most pleasant thing to witness and I wouldn’t want you to….” His voice trailed off as he apparently pondered what to say next.

I leaned forward and kissed him softly. “You’re still trying to protect me, aren’t you?”

He didn’t answer. He just looked at me with those gorgeous dark eyes of his.

After a few moments had passed, I let go of Jean-Claude’s hands and got to my feet. “Let me know about Jason, all right?” I stretched out my hand to Damian. “Come on, Damian. It’s finished. Let’s go home.”





EPILOGUE~ Seven Layers Below


The screams were teeth-rattling. The sobs were heart-wrenching. It wasn’t until the coffin closed that a distorted sense of peace settled over the chamber. Jean-Claude stepped up to the coffin leaning against the moist black earth and placed his hand on the top. The screaming suddenly stopped.

“Go to sleep now, Aristide,” he whispered, his voice lacking any emotion. “Perhaps in time, I will be the one to free you from this wretched confinement. With that my debt to you will be fully paid. Until then, sleep. Sleep.”

The master vampire stepped away from the coffin and joined his second, who was standing at the far side of the earthen chamber. Jean-Claude motioned to the people he had standing by and a team of lesser vampires went to work immediately wrapping the casket in chains. When they had finished, another team of werewolves nailed crosses to the rough wood.

Once finished, that same team picked up shovels and trowels and heavy concrete block that had been stacked high in the bleak, dark room. Working together, they quickly buried the coffin and sealed it behind a wall of newly layered concrete.

Jean-Claude turned as if to leave the chamber, then paused and looked up at Asher. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes wearily.

“We are done here, but is it really finished?” he said and sighed.

“It is finished,” Asher replied. “Because it was truly ‘never meant to be’.” He took Jean-Claude’s hand in his and raised it to his lips. Staring piercingly into the other vampire’s eyes, he kissed his fingers and squeezed his hand knowingly.






































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